Friday Photo #44 – Pachyderm Pals

ElephantFriends

Science asserts that humans have the capability for complex symbolic thought because showing concern for the dead reveals the cognitive ability to represent group members after they have died. Elephants are also known to bury their dead. They have this same cognitive ability.

The Maasai believe that only elephants and humans have souls. And souls or no souls, just look at these two. Smiling, caressing, these two are clearly pals.

See more in the Kenya Gallery at EarthPhotos.com, and see all the Friday Photos.

Zambian Tales

Here is a bit of my eventual book on travel in Africa. Aubrey is the English name of a guide who helped show us Zambia.

Photo: On safari in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Luangwa

•••••

Aubrey grows melancholy by the campfire. The lantern casts an unsure light and a rich Milky Way splays out overhead. Aubrey once had three sisters and three brothers. Now he’s the head of the family.

He has one sister, and more matter-of-factly than I think I would, he says the others died of “natural causes.” He sits motionless, staring into the fire and his past, and then he turns to us.

His mother’s brother was ill south of Lusaka. She went to care for him. While she was gone, one of her sons, younger than Aubrey, took ill. They sent word and she boarded a bus home. A few kilometers south of Chipata, the nearest proper town, the bus blew a tire and his mother was killed. Aubrey’s father was already ill, so Aubrey went to get the body and they buried her the next day. His father lost the will to live, Aubrey says, and died four months later.

“This is African life.”

HIV? He just shakes his head. He has grown concave with gloom.

The price of maize skyrocketed between the end of last year’s store and this year’s harvest. Aubrey tells two horrifying stories he has heard, about maize and making ends meet:

A farmer protecting crops surprises a thief carrying a stolen bag of maize. The thief decapitates the farmer and leaves the bag of maize, with head inside, on the farmer’s porch for his wife to find. She opens the bag unsuspecting, thinking it’s part of the harvest.

A father is taking his son to the doctor but his son dies en route. The man rolls his son up son in cloth and begins the sad return to his village, but has car trouble. A farmer finds the bundle where the car is broken down, suspects theft of his maize, flies into a rage and kills the bereaved father.

Aubrey looks tired. This is all heartbreak and woe. 

He tells another story, though, and gradually brightens as he does. It’s hard to understand it all, but the outline is that, according to a Zambian folk practice, a log is set alight to burn for one month, and during that month a couple must conceive.

The prospective groom’s uncle on his mother’s side goes to his desired bride’s family to negotiate a bride price – cows, for example, or maybe even simply that they can visit their daughter as often as they want. Once the bride price is settled, an elaborate ritual takes place to get her to the wedding bed. 

The groom-to-be arrives alone at the young girl’s village and the mother of the bride leads him to their house. It starts with the young man inside alone. The young girl’s mother brings her to the house. She won’t come in. There is cajoling. Now the door is open. He throws coins; She steps closer.

In the end they spend the night and don’t come out until the next day, and the next day they are married. It’s a festive day, with food offerings from both sides of family, and the dowry is delivered. The catch is, if the bride isn’t pregnant by the time that log goes out, in a month, the bride’s family can give the boy back.

“I am fighting that log,” he smiles. Aubrey is a newlywed.

•••••

Rock Star Pope

KrakowChurch

One afternoon in the autumn of 1978 I came screaming across Atlanta in my Chevette, rushing from a job fifty miles up the road, hurrying to meet my friends at the IHOP. My adulthood so far was a scramble of post-college roommates, general naïveté and a bad job, with all the self confidence that just having been turned down for a VISA card would allow.

I paid no attention that day, October 16th just like today, when a puff of white smoke over the Sistine Chapel announced the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years. Karol Wojtyla, the vicar of Krakow (his church, above), chose the regnal name John Paul II.

If we’d said things like that back then, looking back I’d have said, Whoa, dude. It was a pretty darned fateful day. 

•••••

Josef Stalin scorned the church. “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” he would sneer. The year he said that, 1935, was a long time ago. But on December 1st of 1989, eleven years one month and fifteen days after that puff of smoke in Vatican City, Stalin’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev, came hat in hand to Vatican City, pleading that the Pope return the favor with a visit to the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s heir needed the Pope more than the other way around, and John Paul II was noncommittal, replying that he hoped “developments would make it possible for him to accept.”

•••••

I do not believe in Catholic doctrine. That autumn day in 1978 I didn’t believe in much beyond my disc-jockey job, rock bands of the moment and girlfriends. But with hindsight, with time enough to have visited Krakow and Gdansk, and Warsaw as both Soviet satellite…

WarsawThen

and today…

WarsawToday

I respect that Polish Pope for his hand in shaping the events that puff of smoke helped set in motion back in October 1978.

•••••

Pope John Paul II came to visit Dubrovnik, where we happened to be visiting, on my birthday in 2003. We stood close enough to the Popemobile to be able to read his watch.

Pope

Africa Vignette Series

b1

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

20 Botswana

Some people in Botswana conjure an income from this tall white savannah grass. They gather it, dry it and take it to Maun to sell as roofing. They harvest papyrus reeds, thicker and longer than the grass, dry and tie them with twine to line fences. They’ve done that behind the tents at the back of camp.

Usually underwater, the grass and reeds are exposed now, and they tempt the working man since they’re extra long, longer than in a normal reed harvest. So people have walked here all the way from Maun.

It’s unsettling to watch reed cutters hauling bundles on their heads where at another moment topi or tsessebes or even cheetah might roam. It’s even more unsettling to know these people camp out through the night.

Grass and reeds are the main building materials in the delta – along with the aluminum can. You put down a row of reeds, a layer of mud, a layer of crushed aluminum cans, a layer of mud, a layer of reeds and voila! A wall!

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

z2

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

18 Zambia

This morning will be a new experience – a walking safari. Mirja and I will walk between a rifle-toting guide in the lead, and a tracker, the four of us trailed by a young apprentice carrying coffee and biscuits, the “tea boy.”    

Isaac, a stoic, leathery bush veteran with a beret and a .357 caliber Brno rifle, will be our scout. Aubrey is tracker/guide. As we all assemble around the fire, the first bird calls begin under an orange sky, and the bush fills with whistled, warbled, clucked and chattered declarations that yes, I’ve made it another night; my territory remains mine, so you just stay away.

The grass between camp and the Luwi River is taller than we are. At the riverbank Isaac and Aubrey part it, revealing crocs on the bank opposite. Standing in the shadows, before the sun, on a rise just above the water’s edge, it’s hard to convince myself that crocs only inhabit the far side.

Aubrey takes his job seriously and means to do well. In these first few minutes he has already explained the three territorial zones of animals: the zone of awareness, the warning zone and the zone in which instinct takes over and the animal attacks. We don’t think we’re in anybody’s zone, but still step gingerly onto a ledge a dozen meters above the river, and sit on a log to watch the sun begins to establish sovereignty.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

 

z1

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a series of African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

17 Zambia

We’re dining at a long table set on the lawn under the stars. The proprietors, Georgina and Denis, lived in the small town of Broome, Australia (population 9,000), and Georgina is telling stories. We’re going on and on, gabbing away when, from the other end of the table, Denis cuts us off in an urgent voice.

“Georgina, Bill, will you please be QUIET. There’s an elephant right THERE.”

And there are seven. There is indeed one at the edge of the lawn and as she grazes her way onto the lawn, another and another, then another follow. Denis commands that everybody, including a table of Lusaka bankers drinking at the pavilion nearby, sit perfectly quiet and still.

They say elephants can’t see much but shapes in the dark, but they can see movement. So there the nine of us sit, transfixed. The bankers flee to a chalet and watch from a window. The elephants eat their way to not ten feet from the table and you have never thought elephants were so big until you’re looking up at them, stuck with your legs under a table, hoping nobody will sneeze.

The night crackles with life. Hyenas call and we can’t flee to our room because the elephants have stopped to eat between us and there. Earlier, we’d been delayed by a hippo in the middle of the road. Abraham observed laconically as we sat there, “You have to give a hippo room to maneuver.”

Once we’re home the elephants, who have been hanging around camp all night, put on a real tingling show, tearing at the trees behind the patio, even putting the occasional elephant foot on our stairs just an arm’s length away from the doorway.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

b2

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

16 Botswana

Elephants self-medicate in at least a couple of ways. Pregnant mothers chew the leaves of a particular tree to induce labour. Humans have experience with elephants’ other method of self-medication, and O.P. and B. have a set piece to illustrate it. They discuss the things we learn from animals: How to spot predators from watching the herds, flight from watching birds … and alcoholism from watching elephants.

There’s this one particular tree, see, called the murula, that they take us to see. Elephants eat the little green fruit that falls from the trees’ wide crowns and if they happen upon naturally-fermented ones, they get tipsy.

This is the legend, at any rate. Some say that elephants are so big they would need to eat massive amounts of the fruit. Others counter that the fruit ferments in elephants’ stomachs, so the dozens an elephant might eat could prove sufficient for a nice buzz. You can find photos on the internet that purport to show drunken elephants, and some are pretty funny.

In O.P. and B.’s telling of the murula legend, Man The Observer has seen what happens to elephants and squeezed the juice of the fruit, added sugar, and produced bottles of Amarula Cream. It is de rigeur as an apertif around the proper Botswanan campfire.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

t3

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

15 Tanzania

The Ngorongoro microclimate is remarkable. Dust devils kick up on the other side of the plain. They’re mini-tornados of swirling sand and dust, evoking the desert. At the same time, thunder crackles across the crater and a storm looms up on the rim, even as we’re topping off our sunburns down on the crater floor.

We’re about to turn and begin the climb up to the rim when Mirja spots something way in the distance, off toward the west, over around the pond. This usually means a rhino, zebra, wildebeest or lion, since these are the animals big enough to appear as little dots across the plain. But this is different, curiously shaped. It’s taller than the pack animals. But there are no giraffes in Ngorongoro.

Godfrey grabs the binoculars and all at once all three of us gasp, “It’s a man!”

Two other jeeps make the same discovery and all three of us hustle over to save this fool daredevil. Lions, even hyenas could’ve attacked, but he makes it to the first arriving jeep. Turns out his jeep was stuck and, getting on in the afternoon as it was, he was afraid his passengers would have to spend the night there if no one else happened by, so he decided to chance it.

There’s a lot of relieved joking and laughter. He points to the tiny distant speck that is his jeep. Must’ve walked a couple of kilometers barehanded through lions in the grass.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

b3

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

14 Botswana

Baboons are a lot like us. Unlike the big predators, who hunt in the pre-dawn and twilight, our fellow primates sleep in. Then they come down from their trees and groom one another, rather like we get ready for work, before beginning a foraging circuit for a few hours, pausing to rest in the heat of  midday, and then resuming the hunt for food. In the course of the day, depending on the availability of food, they may cover a half dozen miles.

This morning the baboons kick up a predawn storm up in the trees above camp, screeching and barking loud enough to rip their lungs out. We find out why when we pull away from camp. B shows us lion tracks in the sand.

After coffee Mirja and B. and I pile into the Land Cruiser and spot mongooses, two female ostriches, a giraffe, some kudu, two rooting warthogs, a zebra and a wildebeest who takes off on little skinny legs that look like they’ll never support him. All this before eight in the morning.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

Africa Vignette Series

z3

At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from EarthPhotos.com.

12 Zambia

The grass gives way to larger trees farther from the river. A particular bird flaps and cries and flies out in front of us. Aubrey says it’s trying to lead us to a bees’ nest, because if we disturb the nest, that will help him eat them.

Egyptian geese (Aubrey says) fly over as we sit at a not quite fully dry lagoon. Aubrey hands around coffee and then crouches alongside. Already it’s hot. We shed our sweaters long ago. I reach into my camera bag and I’m horrified to brush against a spider. Aubrey laughs and gently picks him up by a leg and puts him on the ground in front of us.

It’s a baboon spider, he says, a type of tarantula. It’s hairy, three inches across and I wonder how long I’ve been carrying it around.

A different kind of spider has built a funnel-shaped web in a tree trunk with what Aubrey calls “telephone lines” extending upward from it to the side of the trunk. Aubrey explains how the spider lives safely below and can tell by the vibration of his phone lines when something flies into his funnel. He is thus called up to dinner.

•••••

The night sky is simply magnificent. Abraham shows us how to find south with the Southern Cross. Down here, south of the equator, the Big Dipper is upside down, low in the northern sky.

Aubrey grows melancholy by the campfire. The lantern casts an unsure light and a rich Milky Way splays out overhead. Aubrey once had three sisters and three brothers. Now he’s the head of the family. He has one sister, and more matter-of-factly than I think I would, he says the others died of “natural causes.”

His mother’s brother was ill south of Lusaka. She went to care for him. While she was gone, one of her sons, younger than Aubrey, took ill. They sent word and she boarded a bus home. A few kilometers south of Chipata, the nearest proper town, the bus blew a tire and his mother was killed. Aubrey’s father was already ill, so Aubrey went to get the body and they buried her the next day. His father lost the will to live, Aubrey says, and died four months later.

“This is African life.”

HIV? He just shakes his head. He has grown concave with sadness.

The price of maize skyrocketed between the end of last year’s store and this year’s harvest. Aubrey tells two horrifying stories around the campfire, about maize and making ends meet:

A farmer protecting crops surprises a thief carrying a stolen bag of maize. The thief decapitates the farmer and leaves the bag of maize, with head inside, on the farmer’s porch for his wife to find. She opens the bag unsuspecting, thinking it’s part of the harvest.

A father is taking his son to the doctor but his son dies en route. The man rolls his son up son in cloth and begins the sad return to his village, but has car trouble. A farmer finds the bundle where the car is broken down, suspects theft of his maize, flies into a rage and kills the bereaved father.

Aubrey looks tired.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.