Thursday, 26 September 2013

Elephants in Livingstone, Zambia

Almost a year ago to the day, I flew up on business to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and took a slight detour down to Livingstone on the banks of the beautiful Victoria Falls. 

I am a proud African citizen.  I was born and brought up in South Africa and am blessed and privileged to have lived in Ndola on the Copperbelt in Zambia for five years.  I am just as blessed and privileged to have this magnificence right on my doorstep, to visit whenever I please.

Join me, if you will, and I hope that, through me, you can vicariously experience one moment in time which will stay with me always.

A colleague met me at the little, very rural, Livingstone International Airport.  As we were driving to the hotel, he stopped on the side of the road.  I didn't at first understand why but, a crash from in amongst the trees on the side of the road on which we'd stopped, alerted me soon enough.  A herd of elephant was ambling along enjoying the lush vegetation.  We thought, at first, that it was a small herd which had broken way from the herd which lived on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls (Vic Falls to locals).  We were so mistaken, this was no break-away group.  This was a herd of more than 100 strong and was led by a matriarch who was, honestly, one the biggest elephant I've ever seen and I've seen a lot of them.

From the photographs, which were taken with my smartphone, so have none of the normal enhancements one can achieve with a camera, it's easy to be mistaken about how close the elephants actually were. However, if you look at the vegetation and the tufts of grass in the foreground, you can see that, even when the elephants were still at a bit of a distance from us, they were already fairly close.  Here, there is one tiny copse of trees between us and them.

Across the picture in the background from left to right are elephants walking trunk to tail
I don't know how long we watched as the herd moved slowly along.  I could have stayed and watched them for hours.  
A juvenile bull elephant enjoying his afternoon tea

Here's a young bull elephant, ostensibly oblivious to us, enjoying his meal.  He was, however, very aware of our presence but was happily chomping away so wasn't interested in us.  We kept a close eye on him and were ready to reverse out of there the minute he stopped eating.  Juvenile bull elephants are very unpredictable and if he had decided to charge our truck, he was that close (only a few dozen metres) that he could have trampled us in no time.  Also, with the herd all around, if he felt threatened, he could quickly and easily have alerted the rest of the herd and there's a good chance I wouldn't be here to tell the story. That's my arm in the rear view mirror on the bottom right of the photo.

More of the herd, passing by us.  They were really, really close.
Elephants are seldom in a hurry and this herd was definitely out on a leisurely afternoon stroll.  From the photograph it appears as if there is only one single line of elephants.  I don't know how many deep they were walking but I would guess that they were at least four or five deep.  Once again, you can see how very close they were to us.  

The magnificence of it will be etched in my memory forever.  

Elephants milling around, enjoying themselves in the mid-afternoon, African sun
The vegetation was tinder-dry, as you can see.  Here and there are patches of green but for the rest, it was extremely dry and brown.

Zambia has a sub-tropical climate and is extremely hot all year round.  As in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, we locals speak of having four seasons in a year but we really only have two - summer and winter.  In Zambia even these two seasons aren't clearly defined.  Winters are so hot that the only real difference in the seasons is that it rains in summer.

As an example, in winter, on a 'cold' evening, one would, at most, put on a light cardigan.  Winters are also exceedingly dry and rains only begin towards the middle of November, and perhaps earlier in the month if one is very lucky. To give you an understanding of how hot it is at that time of year before the rains arrive. There are very real health hazards. I don't mean hazards such as the anopheles mosquitoes which the rains bring with them and which carry malaria.  They are also a real danger but what I'm referring to is the heat. October is referred to by locals as 'suicide month' because the heat is so unbearable that people's blood literally heats up so much that it affects their brains.  There are more suicides in October in Zambia than in all the other months combined.

Due to the extreme heat, for a lot of the year, Zambia is dry and when I was up in Livingstone at the end of September last year, the vegetation was a reflection of exactly how dry the winter had been that year. Everything was sparse and brown except for patches of green here and there.   The Zambian countryside is a vision once the first rains fall - and that's a misnomer if there ever was one; the rain doesn't 'fall' in Zambia, it pummels the earth in solid sheets.  As the first rains hit the parched earth, one can almost see the new growths forcing their way through the soil and into the light.  Myriad hues of green appear out of nowhere and are liberally sprinkled with all the colours of the wild flora which spring up almost overnight.  

This photo is the only one I didn't take myself but it does give an idea of the rainfall.  This is typical of a 'shower' of rain  in Zambia.  When I lived in Zambia, we never considered even trying to drive in the rain. The two metre deep culverts which ran alongside all major roads, filled to overflowing in less than half an hour and torrents formed and became raging rivers where the road dipped, even slightly.  That's a lot of water.  Floods are a regular feature during summer and the average rainfall is 200mm per month.

Zambia - first rains of the season

A lot of very big animals - thankfully with their backs to us - up close and personal

We eventually drove away when it became obvious that the matriarch was intent on taking her herd across the road and, besides not wanting to upset her, if we'd stayed where we were, we may have been in danger of being trampled.

That evening, at sundown, we were sipping drinks on the banks of the Zambezi overlooking the Victoria Falls and watching hippo gambolling in the shallows but, that's a story for another time.

This is Africa at its very finest.  

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hurting People

There are hurting people all around us but we don't see them.  

It's not that we don't literally 'see' them, it's that they hide away so well within themselves that no one would ever know that they are broken.  Is this because of shame; shyness; arrogance; pride; self preservation; or of something else completely; and is the cause of it something we should even care about?

I don't think we can ever know how another person feels. 

What we can do is treat our fellow beings with respect and dignity in a manner in which we ourselves would like to be treated.  Perhaps in this way, we, at least, will not be guilty of breaking a person down to the level where they feel that they are worth nothing in life and that life is worth nothing to them. 

If we can just treat people with empathy and respect, we can prevent so many lives from feeling or becoming lost because as different as we all are, we are all God's children and all of us have a purpose and are someone in His eyes.  We don't have to agree with everyone.  That is an impossibility.  There are people with whom I, personally, vehemently disagree but I do try to not treat them in a disparaging manner.  The Bible, that wonderful (still best-selling book after all these years), tells us that even when we are faced with our worst enemy, the way to treat them is with love.  

"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45). 

"Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:20-21).

God treats all of us equally and adjures us to do the same.  I'm not sure that I have the resolve to do so, yet, if I  could just care a little more; if we could just be more respectful, perhaps so many heartaches like this one could be prevented:

Reflections of a Life Lost
It's been months since I was made redundant from a job I loved.  It's been months of thinking and praying and trying to understand what I did wrong because, clearly, I must have done something terrible as I was the only one affected and the way it ended was the worst experience of my life. 

I've been trying to understand why this has hit me so hard at this point in time.  It doesn't make sense.   Surely, I should have gone through this pain at the time?  Surely by now I should have got over myself?  Surely shock can't possibly last this long?  Surely I can't have been in denial all this time?

I've been trying to understand why I haven't shed one tear until today and why, quite honestly, I can't now stop crying.  This is a very strange phenomenon for me.  I'm made of sterner stuff.  I rarely cry for anything which affects me directly and, until today, I can't remember when last I did.  I do lapse at times when I think of others' hurts and my eyes will leak and overflow a little but not like this; not like this.  It's as if the well of water within me is determined to force its way out until its last drop is spent. 

I've been thinking back over these months and looking at all the initiatives in which I've been dabbling; because, in truth, 'dabbling' is what it has been.  I haven't seriously started to do anything meaningful.  Each time I think about actually getting going on a project, my inner core seems to shut it down.  It's almost as if I'm trying to sabotage myself because my inner self knows that I'm merely fooling myself into thinking I can actually achieve anything worthwhile.  

This is not a good place for me.  It needs to end.  Somewhere deep inside is the strength I need and with God's help, I'll draw it out.

What happened to the person I used to be?  The person I was who honestly never let anything get me down; who stood firm in my resolve and who always did whatever it took to stay on track?  The person who was so incredibly strong?

That person appears to be no more. 

In place of the me who used to be, is this shell of a person; always smiling, it's true but, beneath the smile, there is a void, a chasm of nothingness. 

Is this how it is to be?  Is this what I've become?  Nothing?  

It feels like it. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

9/11 - 2 Millions Bikers to DC

On 11th September 2013, a group of Bikers from across the whole of America rode to Washington DC to show solidarity for those killed on 11th September 2001 (9/11/2001) as well as the four killed last year in Benghazi (9/11/2012).  

The rally was organised in less than a month and, according to DC police, there were in excess of 1.2 million Patriot bikers who rode through DC on Wednesday.  This rally was also in response to a 1 million muslim march which was organised on the same day.  Interestingly, the 1 million muslim affair received permission whilst the bikers did not.  Given that the muslim march was to occur on the anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity, the insensitivity (or by design) of the muslim march must be considered.  Americans will never forget what happened that day or last year and stirring up emotions of this kind are destructive, to say the least.

The media, known as the MSM, or as Sarah Palin calls them, the LSM (lamestream media) in America did not give one second's coverage to the story of more than a million riders converging on the capital at all.  Oh I'm not correct there.  Fox news had a 28 sec clip which stated that thousands of bikers were riding through DC.  I suppose, if one thought about it very hard, 1.2 million could be broken down into thousands.  
Here's another interesting fact.  The road cameras in and around DC were looped to show no traffic at all and some of the loops even had snow covering the ground. There was no snow in DC on Wednesday.  What those who have the power currently will do to shut down voices of dissent.  Sheesh!

I've been keeping a watch on America for quite a while because it is true that, 'as America goes, so goes the world'.  We see this in global economics all the time.  Politically, the past five years have definitely demonstrated a turn from strength to weakness for America, to the extent that Russia's Putin is now playing the American government for all its worth and, clearly, loving every moment of it.  It has even got to the stage that Americans (and a lot of them) are openly saying that they trust what Putin says and not their own government because their president and his administration do nothing but cover up and lie.  That's a serious indictment.  

In light of my concern, I wrote a poem which is particularly apt after Wednesday's show of strength by all the Patriots - all the Bikers and all those who supported them; and particularly in view of how those who are truly weak in their power have done everything they can to negate its impact. 

I share my poem now as my small tribute to the great stance everyone who participated in Wednesday's bike ride have all taken. May God Almighty lay His healing hands on America.


Civilisations gladly evolve
To embrace tolerance as a right
Yet tolerance is its own weakness
Unless protected by the strength to fight

This has always been true

Real tolerance can only truly exist
Where it is found manifest
Among equally-minded strengths
Bound in mind and spirit at least

This will always been true

Those weak-willed who envy the strong
Will always exploit where they can
To gain a power they do not have
Using whatever means open to them

Deeming such privilege to be true

Civilisations sadly evolve
To provide the deceitful with a right
Power to corrupt compassion gained
To misuse such ‘weakness’ as they might

This will always be true 

Assert your strength and power
Protect your values from aggression and crime
Regain your right to fight for right
Or too much will be forfeit over time

Be bold or this hell will come true
For you

Getting Better and Getting Back

(such a lucky day)

I thought after my previous post that I would be up and about in no time.  Well not exactly 'no time' but certainly sooner than now.  That was not to be and it's taken an inordinately long time for me to get somewhat back to 'normal' (although I probably shouldn't use that word.  I've never been accused of being 'normal').

I'm so glad that, in the words of the legendary Beatles, 'I'm getting better all the time'.  I still have days when I'm completely 'wiped out' and doing anything; anything at all, even making a cup of tea, is a major chore but those are becoming fewer and fewer and much further in-between.  I hope that by the time I see the doctor on the 5th October, he will be able to tell me that I am perfectly fine and that I will actually feel fine.

In fact, the last stanza of The Beatles' song 'Getting Better' says it all:


It's getting better all the time.
Better, Better, Better
It's getting better all the time.
Better, Better, Better

Thyroids are nasty little beasts, I've discovered.  No one can see any problem; there are no outward signs to indicate that something is wrong; and yet, what chaos they cause.  Pffft - no thyroid will keep me down... :)

Here's something else about which I'm ecstatic.  
Although I so wanted my book to be completed months ago, I am now down to the last two chapters to be written before I can say it's done.  Those of you who've read what I've done so far with my book, 'Escape From Mount Vilipend', will understand the enormity of this.  It's the first book in a long epic fantasy series; set in a world unlike any other; with many, many convolutions which all do, indeed, tie up in the end of the book.  
I have been putting out feelers for an agent.  This is quite a difficult task as there are no publishers of the fantasy genre in South Africa so I have to look further afield to Britain or perhaps I should even consider one of the other countries such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand.  I haven't considered America because I write in Queen's English which is quite different in many respects from American English.
I've been looking for a cover artist too and, hopefully, will find 'the one' to give the cover the look and feel I want.
Please keep your fingers crossed for me on both of these very important issues.