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A time for thinking and thanking

Sitting here, on Scarborough beach, I started to ponder. I thought about whether my cat is getting pudgy, how I’ve been wearing the same flip-flops all week, about the smell of the sea when the air is cool and misty, and then, as passers-by smiled and winked and nodded over at me, I had a thought about journalism.

Journalism has transmuted tremendously since my childhood nights and lecture days spent hungrily dissecting Rolling Stone and National Geographic articles that made me feel as though I was a member of The Doors or a remote tribe in the Amazon).

In all its forms, the media has such a poignant way of connecting us even when we aren’t on the same continent, in the same tribe or band. There are many things haywirey and soul-crushing about it. Journalists have been called terrible names, not only by Hunter S and my own writery father. Many of them get things wrong, they sensationalise, they invent fake realities. But the good ones, they’re what pulled me.

I’ve never seen the world come together to collaborate in the way we are now, working to protect one another (sure, partly because we realise helping others means helping ourselves – as it always has and will mean). There are problems that we could nitpick about this collaboration but still, as much as we are physically separated more than ever, it feels as though emotionally and mentally and spiritually we are closer than ever.

Little else can occupy our minds now and the singularity of that makes it easier to unite. It’s not Apartheid in one country or pulling troops out of another or offering asylum to refugees from yet another. We’re all in this.

Many other important causes will suffer and be neglected during this time, but we’ll never forget how we came together in such a widespread way. With the media being the link that kept us together.

I can sit on this beach, feeling my feelings, knowing that someone on a beach in Australia or Hawaii is feeing the very same thing. (Even if it’s sometimes about our cats being pudgy or our flip-flops being over-worn.)

Leave wildlife alone. Eat berries. Wash your hands.

We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy (to quote C.S. Lewis), and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.

I’ve never known a time like this, of enforced solitude, silence and privacy. But I’ve known the joys of it when chosen. Sometimes the things we don’t ask for have a way of teaching us lessons we need most. Maybe all the time.

I’ve never known a time like this where a revolution of global consciousness felt so possible and so widespread (I wasn’t around in the 70s and South Africa wasn’t particularly woke then anyway). I’ve only read about this kind of chaos, perhaps even the word anarchy could apply, in books. I’ve never lived through war or rations or curfews but I’ve felt my own war, my own rations, my own curfews. Having the world hand these over, having our grip on the future and present so drastically shaken, is terrifying and annoying and saddening, but in some way, and it feels blasphemous to admit, it’s also resurrecting.

It feels like it has potential to be a great restoration of the earth, a reclaiming of the simplicity and sacredness (of everything from handwash to freedom of movement to wildlife) that we’ve lost, the solitude and silence and privacy we’ve handed over. Things we need as much as the earth does.

I hope we learn lessons. I hope we don’t return to old ways. I hope we find ourselves again and in so doing, find our way back to the earth. And to each other. As better humans.

Leave wildlife alone. Eat berries. Wash your hands. But don’t be afraid of the dirt. Celebrate the soil. Consider the plants that grow from it and the animals that feed on them. Consider energy and the balance you need to function in your personal life and remember that the earth will always return you to this balance as it does itself. Simplify. Be kind. Be quiet. Be alone. Reach out in new ways. Step out in new ways: into nature not malls, lonely shores not concert halls.

Befriend silence. Befriend books. Befriend rivers and mountains and trees. Befriend squirrels and doves. Befriend yourself. This too shall pass.

Mom, Dad, I’m Hiking an Extinct Volcano!

Tales To Write Home About

“To those who are enthralled by mountains their wonder is beyond all dispute. To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness. What is this strange force that drives us upwards? This silent song of the summit…” – Mountain, Documentary on Netflix

All the mountains I had ever explored before had started with an ascent, a path leading up, up, up. But that day, standing on the rim of Cirque de Mafate, on Réunion Island, looking into a great crater below, our first steps would lead down. Down a steep and intimidating decline.

For those enticed by the some 1000 kilometres of hiking trail on Réunion, the immense volcanic amphitheatre of Mafate is perhaps the pinnacle of a hiker’s visit. We stood on a cliff knitted with plants clinging to rocks, looking over an expanse that felt much more like Machu Picchu or the Himalayas. On and on the range of peaks went.

 

 

Mafate was formed when the magma chamber of Piton des Neiges, a massive 3,069 metre shield volcano, collapsed around three million years ago. No roads big enough for vehicles lead to it, only the steep winding footpath.

The villagers living down in the lush volcanic crater have lived there for generations. No new people are allowed to take up residence there and many of the ones that already do, hardly leave. They grow much of what they need in their gardens and what they can’t grow is flown in, for a price, by helicopter.

 

 

We watched one helicopter descending marvelously into the cirque, wondering if we might catch a ride. Down on terrafirma, the chopper set a giant bag of supplies down on a wooden surface between the sprinkling of houses. One of the villagers would retrieve the goods and the helicopter would fly back to town, Frédéric, my hiking guide and Maître de Maison at Blue Margouillat told me.

Many years ago, it was a local postman who would make these deliveries, walking the entire path on foot, back and forth. Other service providers (doctors, police officers, teachers or foresters) have to follow the same road, unless they wangle a helicopter ride.

 

 

According to the Bradt Guide, the name ‘Mafate’ comes from a Malagasy sorcerer and runaway slave named Mafaty (meaning ‘dangerous one’). Mafaty lived at the foot of Le Bronchard in the cirque and was eventually captured in 1751 by a bounty hunter. Considering its name’s origins, you’ll understand that Mafate is not a simple stroll. Together with Réunion’s two other cirques and its pitons and ramparts, Mafate forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the world’s great natural marvels.

The first settlers arrived here in the 18th century, according to Africa Geographic. Today, roughly 800 inhabitants (called Mafatais) live in tin-roofed mountain cabins (gîtes) in the handful of villages (îlets, from the French, îlots, meaning ‘islands of greenery’). There is no electricity or water grid in the valley.

 

 

Down we hiked, deep into the green volcanic crater, to a small village called Roche Plate (1110 metres away) – our path leading us in baking sunshine, under the shade of trees, beside steep drops, along running streams, and then to a village lit up with colourful flowers and colourful roofs, and signposts leading us to the home of one local family.

 

 

Many hikers choose to stay over in the gîtes, where locals rent out their homes as accommodation and provide warm meals, before continuing along the hiking trail. We stopped for lunch. Three women, across three generations, took us in and sat outside with us, under the shade of an orange tree, looking up at the great cliff we had just descended. A baby hardly able to walk yet strutted up close to inspect the outsiders. It felt like a land removed from the maps of the world. Here, people lived by mountain time and mountain rules.

 

 

The peace of living in such a remote, natural area, by far the most remote I have visited, was visible across the faces of our hosts, in their soft demeanours and kind smiles. A life of agriculture and recently hospitality, in a great extinct volcanic crater, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was remarkable.

 

 

After lunch, the sun much hotter and our legs less willing to keep the same pace as before, we missioned back up the mountainside, the ascent I was used to beginning hikes with. But our minds were renewed. We had looked a great natural marvel in the eye, witnessed a way of life usually hidden from our view, and felt the stillness of isolation. What a life lived like this must be like, we couldn’t help but ponder all the way back up the rocks, in air so fresh and clear our lungs felt like a child’s at the seaside.

This was the allure of mountains, this was the strange force that drove us, this was the silent song of the summit (or col, in the case of Mafate).

 

Visit Blue Margouillat and explore Réunion for yourself here >

Read more in our blog, Baguettes & Waterfalls in the Mountains of Reunion


Nourishment for a Nation on the Rise ~ Zimbabwe’s Mpala Jena Camp

 

The flames swayed and swirled in a drum beside us. Hippos went about their evening romp, on the grass on the Zambezi’s riverbank below. Golden hour had slipped past and storytelling had taken over.

We had spent the first day of our safari at Mpala Jena Camp, in a private concession in the Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe, taking it all in: the giant baobab we stopped the vehicle for so that I could slip out the wide lens to capture the tree’s mammoth girth. The giraffes we sat with for longer than usual, watching them devour natural salt licks, legs splayed in their awkward downward-giraffe pose, tongues flopping between mud and nostril. The skinny baby baboons, scuttering up and down stumps and flinging their bodies courageously from branch to branch in the tallest heights of the mopane trees, sausage trees, marula trees and ilala palms.

 

 

We’d spent the last hours of the day’s light following jostling elephants and their calves kicking up dust across the dirt paths of the reserve like line-dancers at a rodeo. We’d squinted at a lone buffalo staring back at us through dry twigs a few metres from our car. And we’d debated the moving object in the river, while standing on the banks with gin and tonics in silver goblets. It’s a crocodile, someone said, pulling me back up from the slowly moving water. It’s a terrapin! It’s a crocodile! It’s a terrapin! It’s a rock! And so it went… the river was the lifeblood of the park and simply standing beside it we could feel our energy rising, the spirit of the wild showing us a bigger world, a beautiful world.

Back at camp, sitting around the fire, with the creatures of the night, we found ourselves in that great dance of campfire conversations.

 

 

With Desnee, the camp manager, and our guide, Elliot, our discussion led where all discussions about Zimbabwe lead. To the country’s past and how it is emerging, now, from 30 years of rule by Robert Mugabe, how, in spite of the political upheaval that the country has endured for decades, there is still hope in the people who have never left, who work in the country’s lodges and reserves, who see the beauty and potential of its wild spaces and its people. Great Plains Conservation shares this view, this hope, this dream and has actively invested in tourism initiatives in the country, for instance where we found ourselves that night, on a beautiful stretch of the Zambezi River, just fifteen kilometres from Victoria Falls.

 

 

At Mpala Jena Camp, one of the most environmentally innovative camps in the park, a solar-powered example of sustainability in tourism, with all staff being Zimbabwean locals, we could see the dream played out – the community upliftment, the conservation successes, the potential and the beauty of the people, land and animals showing themselves proudly when simply given a chance.

The landscape and wildlife of Zimbabwe remain under threat, as in many reserves across Africa. Protecting them, as Great Plains Conservation has undertaken to do, goes a long way in impeding hunting, poaching and the destruction of the environment. Investing in the country provides jobs for local people, and is a chance for restoration in a country in need of nourishment.

 

Above: Camp Managers Warren & Desnee

Above: Guide, Elliot ~ Below: Head Chef, Zamani

 

We moved our tale-swapping inside, from the fire to a table in the large, open-sided dining tent, where the roar of lions could still reach us, and the dance of hippos still taunted us to take a look-see between dishes. The camp’s chefs were busy in the interactive kitchen, preparing dinner.

Before the night was over, Head Chef, Zamani Sibelo and his team managed to show us just how a country once avoided by travellers, is becoming a source of gastronomical inspiration and insight. Great Plains Conservation’s food philosophy is simple: natural, sustainable and nourishing.

 

 

“All produce is firstly sourced locally to minimise our carbon footprint and benefit the country we live in,” Desnee told us. “Zimbabwe has a wonderful variety of fresh produce and local grains. Some of the items are in such high demand, because of it being in a tourist area, so we sometimes turn to Bulawayo, in southwest Zimbabwe, or hop over the border to Botswana. We source all of our wines and MCCs from South Africa.”

 

 

Chef Zamani has turned his childhood interest in cooking into a life-long career. At Mpala Jena Camp, his focus, he says, is “on the taste and nutritional value of my ingredients. I also go beyond the traditional way of cooking by implementing other unique styles. Being a trained dietitian, I would love to guide people in getting back to the basics, to realise how good nutrition can easily fit into their lifestyle.”

Sustainable and nourishing… that’s the credo, and one that promises, with perseverance, to help restore one of the most beautiful places on our planet.

 


Read more:

Quiet Please, Nature and I Are Having a Moment – Mpala Jena Camp, Zimbabwe


Wellness Lessons from the Wild ~ Great Plains Conservation

 

Sitting with Lara Delafield, Wellness Consultant for the Great Plains Conservation’s beautiful camps and lodges across Africa, I watch the words fall from her lips like petals from a wildflower in the wind. Petals so beautiful and intricate and complex that I gaze at each one, rapt by their individual and united beauty. Listening to her words as she talks about what wellness means to her, something in me changes.

Our discussion about the philosophy of Zarafa Camp and Duba Plains Camp in Botswana, Mpala Jena Camp in Zimbabwe, and Mara Plains Camp and ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya, leads us into the woods, the wild woods, and I feel as though I am sitting on my deck watching the curious waterbuck and peculiar topi, the wildebeest herds and hippo pods, the swimming elephants and tree-climbing leopards.

 

 

Our discussion turns quickly to ourselves, because Lara’s words are universal. They apply as much to a guest in a lodge in the Okavango as to two women in a city coffee shop or a Maasai herder walking across the open plains.

“Create from the unknown. Sit in nature in peace. Feel the expressions of energy in motion, the “just is”. Move the energy through your body and out,” Lara says. “Wellness is about your ability to regulate yourself and create happiness for yourself. The healthiest people know who they are, what they need and where they need to be to tend to their energy. They move toward certain ambiances, exercises, and practices. Self-discipline, nature, belief in something higher, anything that positively affects your state of being, that is wellness.”

 

 

At the lodges and camps in Africa, Lara and the Great Plains Conservation have focused on the healing power of nature particularly, using what she calls, “nature therapy, ecological intelligence, energy medicine.”

“Emotions and stress cause so many illnesses. Mental health is a big problem in the wold, more so than obesity. People want to find quick fixes. The way we are living, with comparative social media, only adds to the anxiety of life. At the lodges, we try to expand people’s awareness about other ways of living. We focus on going back to nature.”

 

 

“Being in that untouched environment has such a huge positive impact on people. It’s a return to their roots, with people (guides, therapists we call wellness concierges, and managers) who are grounded and wise. Nature is uncomplicated and beautiful. It has seasons like us and it doesn’t analyse them.”

“And there is the contribution element that adds to the sense of wellness people feel out in the bush. When travellers visit with local communities, and see how much joy people living with so little have, witness people living in the now, in the moment, excited by simple things, it changes them, opens their eyes. When people give back and support community and conservation projects like the ones the Great Plains Conservation runs, it uplifts them.”

 

 

The petals keep falling all around me, and I feel my own spirit lifting. I feel that sense of all being right with the world. Lara continues, “I believe in the biology of belief. If you believe that only medicine will cure you then only medicine will cure you. If you can believe in other possibilities, like that you are responsible for yourself, things happen in response to what you feel, who you are, what you attract. I was taught, ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me’. My dad used to tell me that.”

 

 

Whether in the Selinda, the Maasai Mara or the Chyulu Hills, the Great Plains Conservation has set up different ways to help bring people back to themselves, to nature, to life.

“Sometimes you have to comfortably push people out of their comfort zone, because you don’t know what you don’t know… Within the camps, we try to take people back to themselves and connect them with their families, sitting all together, taking away WIFI in central areas, taking people back to real connection, back to what fundamentally matters. We help people to feel a part of something, we help them to simplify things and not overanalyse.”

 

 

And then there are the spa treatments… using natural ingredients and treatments that go deeper.

“We aim to help people process their past and emotions with treatments like the renewal treatment,” Lara says, “shedding the old and creating the new, with exfoliations and body brushing. People are often quite moved by it. What we’re trying to do on another level is help people let go of things holding them back, to feel and be better and move forward and take something back home with them. People need support. People are looking for relief. We help awaken the senses, because people’s senses are dulled through life.”

“Sometimes we purposefully dull them ourselves,” I add.

 

 

Empowering the housekeepers and concierges for overall wellbeing is another tenant to the philosophy at Great Plains Conservation.

“We work with the concierges in energy and self-worth training, because when you meet someone and touch someone, you have a huge impact on them. We make them aware of global wellness, but also ask them what wellness means to them. Between us, we share ideas of our different cultures and wellness wisdom and we grow. In our treatments, we bring in the wisdom of the local terrain and the healing properties of plants, and the strength and beauty of the local people.”

 

 

“Everything is consciously done at Great Plains,” Lara adds. “We use sustainable products, vegan products and natural elements in the spa, reducing any negative impact on the environment. The food is natural and wholesome, with gluten-free and sugar-free options. Zarafa Camp even has a raw food chef. In this environment, you see people’s joy coming back, because they’re not getting flustered with everyday busyness and things. Life should be abundant and joyful.”

 

 

Lara has been through a journey of her own, starting with completing a psychology degree, working at other lodges in camp management, travelling overseas, working in corporate set-ups, and then going into personal training, NLP coaching and reflexology and starting the first woman’s gym in Durban, South Africa. Her current work focusing on inspiring people and using nature as a tool. Nature is what inspires her, along with people who have gone through adversity and persevered and achieved.”

 

 

Spending time with her, spending time in the healing hands of a Great Plains Conservation wellness concierge in the heart of the Zambezi National Park or Kenyan plains or remote Botswanan wilderness, I am inspired. I feel that abundance and joy of life. I feel my senses restored and my feet ready to seek out more dusty paths and fireside gatherings with new friends. “If it is to be, it’s up to me,” I remind myself. A chant for a new life.

 

Duba Plains Camp

We Found Love in a Pink-Walled Boulangerie ~ Reunion Island

 

It’s said that the trick to getting a sleepy, reluctant mind ready for a run or hike is to put on your socks and shoes and tie up the laces, nice and tight. This simple activity fools the body into thinking it’s ready. It’s a sort of rubbing of the lamp to bring out the genie. It’s not wishes it grants you, but oomph, vigour, a love and eagerness for life. Joie de vivre!

There’s another trick to sparking that go-get-’em vivacity, we discovered on our way into the mountains of Réunion Island, and it lies in the sweet caress of a French patisserie. It’s the effect of delicious goods lined up behind glass windows, ready for the picking, that triggers something in the brain. The excitement centre lights up.

 

 

With Frederic of Blue Margouillat, in the town of Cilaos, in the centre of the island, our day’s hike began in a pink-walled boulangerie – our tightly-tied hiking shoes surrounded by rows of eclairs, feuilleté à la crème, mille-feuille vanille, baguettes, croissants, flan, muffins and Choux vanille. Into our bags we slipped one or two items from the selection, an incentive to be nibbled at pitstops along the route, and off we went into the hills.

 

 

The island’s local boulangeries and pâtisseries remind you that while on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, you are, at the same time, in France. This French department, surrounded by the warm seas, with volcanoes and mountain peaks rising out of its fascinating landscape, is dusted with shops selling sweet and savoury slices of traditional favourites. But there are also the markets… serving as additional impetus for our hike to Cascade du Bras Rouge in Cilaos.

 

 

The town is known for its hot springs, vineyards, fruity wine, tasty lentils and fine embroidery. It is the only place in Reunion where they grow grapes. In its market stalls we found even more delicious local fruits: pamplemousse, bibasse, apples, quine, guavas, pears, pomegranate… produce grown by local farmers living in the remote regions of the island: avocados, chouchou, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, peas…

We found our minds and bodies enlivened by the colours and tastes of the food of Cilaos, so much so that running up and down the mountain peaks were but a breeze. A delicious breeze.

 


Browse the markets for yourself in our images below.

 


 

The Deep Peace of a Place Called Epako ~ A Namibian Safari

 

“The first thing I hope to do as a guide is get guests to understand the importance of animals,” Hendrik says as we walk through the reserve on an April morning at Epako Safari Lodge.

This is my first time in Namibia. I say it on the first day, the second, the third and the fourth, and I’ll say it now: I have never known such peace in a wildlife reserve.

There are many reasons for the feeling of calm and stillness here, at the foot of the red cliffs of the Erongo Mountains, in Omaruru, and one of them is guide, Hendrik Adams. His nature, his kindness, his mindfulness.

 

 

We continue walking, looking at our feet, at the gravel passing beneath them, the odd track of an animal that has walked the path before us, and looking out at the immense openness between the low mountain slopes. The occasional giraffe neck calls our attention.

“I want guests to leave Epako with that awareness of the importance of animals, to take it home with them and share it with others, to extend a greater consideration for animals and an understanding of them,” Hendrik says.

 

 

We hardly look up at each other as we walk, but we are connected. There is an instant comfort that takes me back to hiking through the mountains back home with family. Yet all around us are eagles, giraffes, oryx, kudu, eland,  snakes, wildebeest, rhino and the occasional leopard, reminding me that I am very far from home, from the city.

“To do this,” he continues, “I try to be kind and generous, to be an example, toward not only animals but people too. If we are kind like this in ourselves, the world outside picks up on it and reacts to it. The kindness spreads. This is how I approach animals, thinking good thoughts, but also how I try to be with people. It’s all the same.”

 

 

Our path twists and turns, a few baboons are playing in the dry trees that stand tall and twisted beside us, like a tower of giraffes in a bare field. We’ve been walking since sunrise and by now the sun is bright, the air dry and hot and the sky blue. I could walk all day in this weather, in this wilderness. Just listening.

 

 

“I explain the different characteristics of animals to guests so that they can understand the beauty of what they’re seeing here. So that they can understand the animal. When we understand something, we fear it less. We know how to handle it.”

There’s something Hendrik tells me that I had never known, never thought about, or perhaps simply never permitted myself to believe. It’s the theory that the great Big 5 animals, the big cats and elephants that have on occasion made me freeze when they or I have gotten too close, are not dangerous. Not by nature.

 

 

“Rhinos and elephants have good memory, and lions, all the Big 5,” Hendrik tells me on our morning ramble on foot.

“They remember when people were killing them back when hunting was prolific. They became more and more dangerous as a way to protect themselves from humans. Animals are not naturally so dangerous. Without human intervention they are much more peaceful in nature. It’s because of humans that wild animals are dangerous.”

 

 

“How we approach them matters. If we approach them and treat them in a safe manner, they become used to this and are calmer around us, calmer in general. This is what I try to tell guests. We need to consider our role in the wild.

“We feel safe here even though we have rhino, because we know how to interact with the animals.”

 

Kindness, kindness, kindness, I tell myself as we walk, like a meditation mantra with each step – past the giant termite mounds and thick bushes.

We come across five or six giraffes in a field, metres from us. They stand, chewing, looking back at us as we stop, stand and look back at them. Hendrik’s “Men Who Stare at Goats” charm is working.

 

 

“Years ago when we had elephant on the reserve, we didn’t go on walks like this. We were always in the vehicles. When we first started doing bush walks, the giraffes would run away from us when they saw us on foot. But as you can see, they’ve realised we’re not here to harm them. We are not a threat. So between us a mutual understanding has grown. We are friends.”

 

 

“The other part of my job is to look after the animals on the reserve, as reserve manager. In today’s world, we don’t know how long these animals will be around. I want to make sure they have a good life here. We try to keep the animals as wild as possible and don’t interfere in their roaming. We let nature dictate, because nature is successful by itself. But there are times when we need to.”

 

 

“In the case of a severe drought, we will provide food, but we don’t like to, because the moment you start feeding animals you start to tame them and make them used to receiving food from humans. And this becomes a problem as they won’t go out into the wilderness for themselves.”

 

 

It’s clear that the warmth of heart you feel at Epako stems very much from the attitude of the guides and managers, waiters and chefs, but it’s something that’s typical of Namibia too.

“We understand one another here,” Hendrik tells me, as we come to the end of our hike, approaching the long entrance to the lodge, with great cacti hailing us a welcome.

 

 

“We try to work together here. The ethnic tribes are not divided. We work as one Namibia, one nation; that makes us quite unique and peaceful. There is a spirit of togetherness among all the tribes and groups. Everyone is treated equally by the government and we respect anyone who comes into the country.”

 

 

Hendrik adds, “The vastness of the wilderness, the immense space, uninhabited tracts of land, and the small population of Namibia also add to the peace you’re feeling.

“Epako is also more relaxed because we don’t have lions or elephants to worry about. You’re not constantly on the alert, but you’re still a little on your toes. Just as it should be.”

 

 

This might be the essence of Epako, I think, as we reach the meeting point at which our meander began, looking over the lodge’s bright pool and the animal’s waterhole below. But it’s also an ideal approach to life. To be at peace, but with toes ready to dance.

 


 

 

A Night of Song & Storytelling with Zolani

 

After the sun has set and the sky has fallen dark over our tables on the terrace, a low call, like a mother lion crying out to her lost cub on a still night in the wild, sounds from somewhere in the distance. We follow it and the beat of a drum that echoes with our steps to the Wine Gallery at Ellerman House.

Inside stands a woman dressed in white from head to toe, a skirt cast out over her lower body like a lampshade. Famed South African musician, Zolani. To her left, a woman sitting over an African drum, Sky, moves her hands to pick up another instrument, adding rhythmic shakes, the sound of beans being sorted in a sieve.

 

 

To the right, a girl is wrapped around a double bass guitar much longer and wider than herself, almost completely obscuring her. Sarah. When she begins to play all you see is her, as though her presence takes over the instrument completely, like a lion stepping out from behind a tree.

“Hmmm, isn’t that so tasty, right?” Zolani says after the introductory chanting.

“Something so beautiful and wordless and primal, it’s so enjoyable to sing, right?” Zolani continues. “It just comes, you just feel it, right? That said, we’re going to introduce the next song, one with words. It was the first song I ever wrote on guitar, a song called Buttercup, and when I wrote it, I was in the Eastern Cape. A long time ago. And these words came and these words were a story, about meeting someone, something, just feeling like, Goodness, can this experience really be, how much can I trust that this experience is for me and will stay for me? I recorded it with Freshlyground years ago. Enjoy it.”

 

 

So I said, “And so my pretty little buttercup I’ll take you out on a date
And if you ‘ll be my pretty little buttercup I’ll pick you up around 8…”

Having gone solo since her days with Freshlyground, Zolani plays us a few of her own songs, saying, “I’m really fascinated by story; many of the songs I write are stories that have never happened to me, such as this one… This one is called C C Carnival and it’s written from the perspective of someone with a speech impediment. The person meets someone at a carnival and they’re so delighted by this human being. It’s like they’ve never met a more captivating human being before… This is C C Carnival.”

 

 

Zolani speaks slowly, at her own pace, and we are listening to every word, waiting for each one to complete the story playing out before us. She moves into song, the band into instruments, and we follow, unable to turn away. Not knowing what will come next.

The drum beats return, there is a new flow and the audience join in, in body and voice.

Everything I ever wanted, I ever wanted I ever wanted you, Zolani sings.
Everything I ever needed, I ever needed, I ever needed you,
You say every word you say is, everything you say is, well you want to say it’s true,
but I know everything you say is, well everything you say is, well it’s nothing new.

 

 

The songs continue with messages that find a home in us all…

No more will I linger in the shadows, let me in, your heart is as big as all the ocean,
These nights are cruel my dear, no one else could be all, especially one as beautiful as you,
All you need is someone, someone like me…

 

 

On stage, Zolani moves into more stories, this time deeper into her personal life, with a tale of her upbringing:

“I was raised Catholic after my mother passed and I went into a new school. It was a different environment from the one I had lived in my whole life up until then, which was a township. Not all townships are the same, we must know, but there are some things that are very much the same. One is that people have a similar experience of economics, are in a similar economic bracket, read: poor, so when my mother died and I started going to these new schools, it was the first time that I was introduced to a new way of being, where money didn’t seem to be an issue for most of the kids who were at the school.”

 

 

“And it was the first time, of course, that I was taught by people who didn’t look like me, didn’t have the same skin colour. There were nuns, and I was given a new name. I stopped being called Zolani and I was called…. Beep (Zolani refuses to let us share her name). That was the name that I had for a long time… Beeep, until 1994, which is significant (as it was the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy in South Africa). There were very different experiences that Zolani had and that Beeeep had, but somehow these experiences were also bound by blood.”

 

 

“My stepmother was a sangoma and every weekend we’d have traditional ceremonies, so there’d be the spilling of the blood of the chicken, goat, sheep or cow and then in the week I’d be standing at the priest’s cup, sipping the blood of Christ. This was one of the only similarities going on. I felt very confused by these conflicting realities, and when I grew up, I felt like Mother Mary owed me something, like this promise of a better life owed me something it didn’t deliver. Here is a song pertaining to this, called, You promised me.”

 

 

Next, a Jazz number and bass solo, to stories of love: “I wanted to forget myself by being him, taking on his face,” she says. “Don’t love me too much I may forget all of the things that make me. Don’t love me too much, I may forget what’s true, I may begin to be you. Be moderate in your affection, too much love will lead me in the wrong direction,” she sings.

The only moment we manage to step outside of the intensity of Zolani’s storytelling is when she catches it too, sees it all almost from the outside and names it: “Ah, that moment of flow. That is what we need to find and we’re very appreciative of finding those moments here on stage with you tonight. Thank you very much.”

 

 

Into the night we walk, as the concert closes and Zolani, Sky and Sarah leave the stage, but we’re still in the flow and even in the darkness outside the Wine Gallery, it feels as though the lights have been switched on, the sun has come out. Zolani’s songs echo through our bodies with the night’s words: “No more will I linger in the shadows…”

 

A Chitenge Love Story ~ Royal Chundu

 

What I remember first is the warm voice of Brinah and the shaking of hands with Godwill, the Royal Chundu car picking me up and carrying us off to the market. I remember the words: Tina has organised something special for you. The scenes out the window as we arrived at the market in Livingstone, Zambia: the beans and vegetables and grains piled up on tables in stalls, men and women hiding from the afternoon heat, a boy walking up to me with one hand in a peace sign and a tyre held up with the other. The beat-up Landrover that intersected us and the winding dirt path leading to a dark corner lit up with every pattern and colour of chitenge possible.

 

 

I remember the chitenge! And Brinah saying, please take a look; me already eyes and elbows deep into fabric, camera trying to catch up to the motions of my excitement. Brinah saying, pick some of your favourites. For a dress. I tried to understand what was happening, a shopping trip for me? I asked. Yes, our gift. But I should go to a bank, I said. No, our gift, she repeated.

I remember the first cloth that jumped out at me and every cloth thereafter: this one and how about that one, ooh wait, how many more can we get? These two! Ooh ooh these these! Camera down, hands exchanging, body spinning from wall to wall, we collected several fabrics and paid the shop owner and moved back out into the sunlight.

 

 

I remember every dress worn by the women we passed, the shirt on Brinah’s own body, wondering how I’d gotten so lucky, how much kindness I’d stumbled into, how undeserving of it all I felt as we headed back to the car past faces I wanted to greet and meet and share stories with. I remember designing the dress in my mind as we drove to the lodge at Royal Chundu and Aggie in her own perfect chitenge dress and Hessah in his bright bold shirt moving in the “welcome home” dance at River Lodge.

I remember meeting the seamstress, Mrs Kalota, and feeling Zambia wrapped around me closer than ever before. I remember stepping into the final product and not wanting to take it off. I remember you, all of you. Your colour and your kindness.

 

 

Discover more about Royal Chundu here >


Be Still, My Beating Heart ~ The Peace of Esiweni

 

“The light of oneness is available to all of us, present in hidden aquifers where life’s waters continue to flow, waiting in a living silence for us to notice.” ― Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Pemba has the biggest, most constant smile I’ve ever seen on a guide. It’s one of the things I remember most about our safari in the Nambiti, at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in South Africa.

On our game drives through the reserve, we’d talk now and again, and then lull back into a content quiet in the warmth of the day, beside giraffe moving across the open plains (be still, my beating heart), or black rhinos browsing and lions drinking from shallow pools.

 

 

In the silence, we’d look over at each other and smile. I saw Pemba’s smile more often than I heard him talk. And talking was no problem for him. His beaming face simply took over, recognising the need for quiet, while communicating all there was to communicate. And I understood each message, each unspoken sentiment. How fortunate we were, especially, as wild animal after wild animal, bird after bird, crossed our path: wildebeest, zebra, elephant, kites and eagles.

 

 

On these drives, we’d often not come across another vehicle. Back at the lodge, on a remote cliff overlooking the Sundays River below, hectares of wilderness surrounded us. Only a few other lodges exist in the vicinity and are wholly out of sight. At times, we were are all alone on earth. Or so it felt. And it struck me: when last did I hear this… silence?

 

 

Back home, even at dawn or in the middle of the night, there was always a hoot and a honk, ocean waves rolling or birds trying to claim their spot on the balcony. Absolute silence was rare and quick to pass.

Sometimes it was my mind to blame: its tricks interrupting the stillness. But locking eyes with an adult male lion, watching him stalk off after an unsuspecting warthog through the tall grass, my mind found stillness. And in the stillness, the sounds I’d not been able to hear revealed themselves: a dove’s cooing, crickets and the breeze through the trees.

Were I one of the wild things, I’d have picked up so many other subtleties, but I was thankful for the silence.

 

 

I was thankful for a guide like Pemba who understood and a lodge like Esiweni, where with only five private villas and a small team of staff, the peace would settle over us everywhere we went: while we lay in bed looking over the wild expanse or taking lunch on the deck in the sun, around the pool in the afternoon or at sunset drinks beneath the lanterns of a tree that leopards curl up in for quiet time of their own.

 

 

Maybe you forget what silence feels like from time to time too, but it’s worth the hunt. Because what you find there is the softness of life that sometimes escapes us. The space and freedom present, but sometimes hidden. Sometimes it’s inspiration and an epiphany that finds you. Sometimes, it’s simple: peace.

 

 

“You’re very perceptive for a guy who can go a whole day without talking,” she said, peering up at him. “That’s why I’m perceptive.” ― Nicholas Sparks, The Longest Ride

 


Read more about Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in our blogs:

The Sweetness of the Solo Safari

Growing Up Wild ~ Tippi Meets Adèle at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge

The Beginnings of Love at Esiweni

Find the Others ~ The Soul of the Nambiti