Archive for April, 2013

Tonight the moon is bright, throwing the shadows of acacia trees across the bone white of the veld. The wind is sighing, and bats skim low over our heads, chasing each other through the dark. We don’t often get to do this, us city-dwellers; lie back on the grass and look up into the domed canopy of the night sky. There is something wonderfully primitive in being still, watching the stars multiply as our eyes become accustomed to the blackness. Out in the veld, past the safety of the fence line, the fiery necked nightjars wail over and over again, “may the good Lord deliver us”.

This night reminds me of the many we shared as children in a magical place called Bonamanzi (which means see water in isiZulu). We’d pile into the family kombi, perhaps with a childhood friend or two, and make our way to our small piece of wilderness. Yesterday I returned to that childhood haunt, where as kids we’d stare up into the bright glow of the milky way, barely able to keep up with each other as we plotted out the fall of shooting stars. Tonight we see but three; either our childhood eyes have dimmed, or the light is creeping in from the nearby town.

Lalapansi (lie down), Bonamanzi’s bush camp, is no longer that childhood garden. The old beehive huts, made of reeds and thatching, have been replaced with proper little houses. The island on which our small human shapes morphed into mermaids and pirates, is now a grassy knoll on which future husbands and wives can declare their lifelong commitment to each other. The kitchen, which stood on stilts at the water’s edge, is now a gathering place for guests to relax and while away the hours, as the sun seeps crimson across the rippling water.

The old A-frame huts

View from the old kitchen – the old A-frame huts

The new lounge

The new lounge

Though much has changed in 20 odd years, I could still catch glimpses of myself and my sisters as we hunted for tree frogs, running wildly through the dark to the fire at the boma; we treated the camp as if it were our very own kingdom. Here I am reminded of family and childhood, and the happiness of being totally unaware of anything other than the freedom of the bush. It’s been less than a year since my mom passed away, and as I walked through the camp, I felt her presence; watched her walk ahead of me, turning to call out to us girls — urging us to hurry as we headed to the car for a night drive in search of crying bush babies and other small creatures of the night.

Going bundu-bashing

Going bundu-bashing

When I walked the trails of the bush camp, I had to remind myself that I don’t own this place, even though it feels very much like it is mine. I felt an intense sadness for all those visitors who will never know the true Lalapansi, that wild place of a bygone age. But then I think about my own future family. And I can see my children running through the bush, seeking out strange insects, learning the names and calls of birds, and living a life filled with the sheer wonder of nature. I can see my dad, with a grandchild on his knee, pointing out a yellow-throated longclaw, as he imitates the phooooooeeeet of its call.

When I returned home, I dug out all our old family photos; boxes holding moments in time, captured in all their innocence, untainted by the perfection of technology . There are my grandparents, out from Ireland, standing next to an old beehive hut. They loved South Africa, but I can well imagine they thought my parents were quite mad; living in Hluhluwe (a name they simply couldn’t pronounce), holidaying in an old hut with no electricity, dirty brown river water filling the bath. There is my dad, looking very much like a raven haired and moustachioed mercenary, sitting on his haunches, gun in hand, proudly holding onto the giant tusk of a warthog. On the back, my mom has written, “Don’s great moment of truth!!”.

The grandparents at Lalapansi


Dad with his first, and probably last, game kill

Dad with his first, and probably last, game kill

And there is my mom, grinning wildly as she swims alongside her three water-winged mermaids, in the cool and magical waters of our youth.


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