Five reasons to live in Southern Africa

Posted by Cara Moroney on 10 December 2010 Tags:, ,

I live in Africa, managing a safari camp in the bush. It’s a far away, exotic, unknown place to most people I know in Canada and the questions I most often get are “˜What is it like to live in Africa?’ or “˜What do you like about Africa so much?’. These questions are simple, apparent, but extremely difficult to answer. Love often defies explanation because the simplest but least helpful answers I have, are, ‘It’s wonderful’ and ‘I love it’.

But here I will attempt to convey why I like living in the Southern African bush, as I am no expert on living in North Africa, or in urban Africa. I will do this by employing the ever popular, but possibly lazy, method of a top ten list. But, this top ten list has a twist – it has a mirror image because as much as I love Africa, it ain’t easy. Almost everything that is glorious is harsh; almost everything that is heart warming can be heart wrenching; much of what is beautiful is cruel. But like any love, if it is true, you love both sides of the coin. You love not in spite or despite shortcomings, but because of them.

1. Sun downing

It is simply the miracle part of the day. It’s ironic that ‘sun downing’ is a term used in the psychiatric field to describe the phenomena in which many patients suffer from increased agitation and aggression because it happens at this time of day. It is thought that this is brought on by a deeply rooted fear all humans have of the dark. And, when you think of it, night threatens our survival at the most basic level; we are useless in the dark. But, out in the bush, after a long hot day of working, it truly is serenity NOW. The crushing heat subsides, brilliant colours emerge, and the din of the day quiets. No matter how hectic or negative day I had in camp, I always had those few quiet moments before the guests came back from the evening game drive to decompress and enjoy Africa for all its beauty.

There were times though when that serenity easily and abruptly descended into insanity. Like when I got a radio call that there was no coke in the fridge for the pilots who stayed behind to get drunk and I had to run up the half kilometer to restock so they could continue to get wasted, oh, and then proceed to hit on me. Pilots – they don’t pay and they always drink you out of house and home. Or, when guest had broken the glass bottles full of shampoo and conditioner all over their tent and I had to attend to that “˜emergency’. Or, when I went up to the mess tent to do my dinner checks about 30 minutes before guests were due back only to find that the table was set completely wrong. In the effort to fix it, the waiter’s whose fault it was walked off and the other waiter was completely paralyzed by fear and incompetence, which left me and the other manager hauling heavy wood tables away and resetting. We finished just before the guests arrived back and I was back on duty just like that. I would try again tomorrow and hope for a little more of that prolonged serenity.

2. The safari hat

I get to wear a proper kick ass safari hat every day and not be a douche bag. It is part of the unofficial uniform and it’s just cool. But the awesomeness of the safari hat is also marked by its utility and functionality. I didn’t buy it purely for a fashion statement, but stylish protection from the unforgiving African sun.

The Safari Hat – It’s not so much the hat that is the problem, but what lies underneath – the hair. My luxurious, soft hair was the envy of many in Toronto, but it turned brittle and dry in the first few months. At one point, I dared to get it cut in Francistown, Botswana – never heard of it, yeah, so you can imagine how many worthy hair salons there are. It got butchered. My hair was facing salt, sun, heat, wind, hard water, and well, wearing that safari hat every day. So, in a way, it is what the safari hat signifies – a harsh hair life.

3. The coffee and walnut biscuit

For a sweet tooth like me, this treat is heaven. It was two shortbread cookies with an incredibly sweet icing in the middle and a sugary coffee glaze and a walnut to top it off – hence the name. Tea time is a great tradition and one of the delights of safari. This particular sinfully sweet delight was the feature on the Sunday menu and was paired with parmesan cream cheese biscuits. Everyday there is a sweet and savory treat. Even in the bush, you can find the best parts of civilization.

If I could literally taste the sugar in this treat, I could almost literally feel my pants tightening. They are a sugar lovers Lucifer and the after effects are not so heavenly. The temptation was often too much to resist. Funny, all this biblical imagery on a Sunday. The nice thing about Botswana is a few extra pounds is considered attractive, but I generally like to be fit and lean and with no gym nearby, this could prove stressful at times. Will power takes on a whole new meaning and I had to exercise that more than anything.

4. The wind – Africa is hot

There’s no doubt about it. That’s where the wind comes in. I discovered that wind in Southern Africa is not like wind in Canada – it is merciful not merciless. It is lyrical not clamorous. You can hear it in the grasses and the trees, not in the shuttering of windows or clank of blowing city debris. The wind sings in Africa because it has space. It is not crowded and squeezed by sky scrapers. It is not an angry wind.

Wind is also a carrier. It carries dirt and Kalahari sand relentlessly and in copious amounts. I have never cleaned more in my life than I did in the past year. It was a never ending battle to keep the place well dusted and de-sanded. And like any counter battle, you’ll never quite win; you’ll always be a step, or ten, behind.

5. Rain

Again, I stress, Africa is hot. Botswana does experience winter, but it is brief. By October it is sweltering again and stays that way until May. There can be days on end over 40 degrees and we all pray for the relief of rain. The clouds can tease for awhile and I could feel myself and everyone around me anxious, tired, and testy. It’s as if everyone is holding their breath until finally it does rain and we all collectively exhale; we rejoice. In Botswana pula is the word for rain; the money is also called pula. Pula is all things happy because, indeed, rain in this parched, thirsty country is precious.

After the first joyous moments were over, the scramble to try to keep things dry began. We would all have to run around like crazy zipping up the guest tents (all at least 100 meters away from one another), rolling up Persian carpets (why Persian carpets are in an area where they are exposed to the elements in the first place? I don’t know), pulling in chairs, etc. And, and don’t forget, despite the rain, it’s still hot. Then I would have to greet guests that cut short their game drive and act is if nothing had happened and we all just take it in stride.

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