2 Jan 2013

Under the South African Sun

The sunset glows pink, red, orange and gold, taking on different cloudy shapes and textures which can only mean one thing: we’ve reached Africa.  The dense orange bubble pours silky shadows across the savage wilderness of Acacias and Baobabs.  The gold-tinged clouds could be mistaken for fuming vapours, forming 3D silhouettes in the sky which look like spitting lava.  I lapse into their vitality and fancy myself a part of this abundant skyline.

I pause a moment, taking in the stillness of my surroundings.  The atmosphere is not tinged or bloodied.  I feel at harmony with what I see around me and smile at its beauty.  This is life.  This is freedom.  I don’t for once envy my colleagues sitting behind cold wooden desks, craning their necks and backs over stiff keyboards and staring into empty screens.
This foreign land feels like home.  

A herd of elephants thuds gracefully over the horizon, their trunks curling around branches - obscured by bright green leaves - to feed their hungry bellies with the blooming landscape.  Summer is very much alive in South Africa.  I’ll never forget the thick, mud-encrusted skin against my hands, or the vivid network of veins behind their ears.  I look out towards acres of wide open planes of golden reeves which rustle and shimmer under the sun’s peachy glow.  A dazzle of Zebra swish their tails and cock their heads back at us with an air of royalty.  I look down at them from my viewing platform, my legs spread wide over the elephant’s back as I hold on tightly.

Once I went running in the cool afternoon, the gentle breeze lapping at my face and the buzz of harmless insects swarming my ankles.  My eyes centred on the iron-red earth beneath my feet, careful not to tread on a Black mamba or stir a rock monitor lizard from its sleep.  I felt this overwhelming presence of life around me, like something was watching my every step.  It suddenly dawned upon me that in this giant wilderness that is Africa, I am never alone.  I tilted my head towards the sun whose glowing face was resting sleepily on the horizon.  And there, in the distance, six giraffe stared at me intently.  They seemed unmoved by my legs which rolled across the airstrip in shaky thuds, unsettling the sand beneath my feet.  They twitched their ears momentarily, pausing in the sun’s beaming radiance, as glorious as ever.  Zebra sauntered in the shadows of these long-necked creatures, their white bodies almost luminescent against their black stripes.  Then suddenly, as if a savage beast woke them from their calm reverie, they lurched into the shadows and I could see them no more.

Evenings were spent drinking glasses of South African wine on the veranda, sinking into an all-seasons settee lined with individually beaded cushions as we discussed the day’s conquests.  I looked out towards the garden, the deep blue of the swimming pool shimmering in the moonlight, the faint yet distinctive shriek of baboons hailing from the treetops.  A slither of paradise.

Our evening meal times were the highlight for insects, big and small.  Moths flapped their wings noisily between the candle centrepieces and beetles crawled underneath crockery.  At first they were pests, but we soon learnt to be fascinated by the creepy crawlies who were insistent on joining us for dinner, lured in by the light.  The anxious rustling of hair and banging of knives soon quietened down, and the bugs remained frequent guests at our table as we tucked into plates of wildebeest, warthog or kudu.  Lanterns hung from the trees, rocking slightly in the evening breeze.

A canopy of white butterflies all seemed to hatch one morning by nature’s call, flitting around the landscape like snowdrops caught in the wind.  I tried to capture them with my camera but they moved so fast that they were simply white dots on a forest green background.  They wouldn’t last more than a few days before they melted back into nature’s womb.

We stopped at the bridge and climbed out of the truck.  The binoculars swinging around my neck were immediately put to use.  The hippo poked their sleepy heads out of the water, their nostrils bouncing along the surface of the gently flowing river as they rested on each other in a familiar huddle.  

A storm approached.  We sat on the balcony in our deck chairs, the tempest looming and locks of thick, smoke-like clouds spiralling up from a point on the horizon.  The lightning struck in sheets and forks, a metallic blue, sometimes pink, slicing the air.  The thunder came in huge angry claps, like the thunderous roar of a lion demonstrating his dominance.  The heavens struck again and balls of hail were violently hurled from the angry sky, denting car roofs and pounding aggressively on neatly trimmed lawns.  A mixture of water and spheres of the whitest white were running in cascades off the thatched roof, a temporary yet daunting waterfall of all sorts.

I felt this unmatched peace as I buried my body in the creases of an all-enveloping hammock and delved into a book all about this wondrous land: I Dreamed of Africa.  As each page turned, a chapter of my love affair unfolded as the Africa around me harmonized with the poetry I held in the cusp of my hand.

I was surely falling in Love...

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