My Africa

I decided to copy and paste some posts I made on a long-lost homeschool forum about my home country. Just for sentimental reasons.

Hmmmm maybe a ‘page’ format wouldn’t work….I’ll have to try it and see…

My Parent’s bush cottage:

Here is a picture of my dad painting the window frames, with some non-chalant visitors in the background.

Susan asked: Are they normally that brave?

I answered:

It depends where you are. No hunting allowed here, so they are not so skittish. Also, this place allows people to build their own cottage on a piece of land, with lots of open spaces inbetween for the animals to roam…it is a vacation spot and many of the homes are unoccupied for much of the year…so the animals get used to being around the homes, it is just part of the scenery…I saw some zebra’s taking shelter from a thunderstorm on someone’s verandah once. 

This cottage is right on the border of the nature reserve where the webcam is. The animals roam freely to and fro from the nature reserve, even lions and elephants etc. The difference is that in the nature reserve you have to stay in your car, here you can actually go for walks and get mocked charged by an irritated elephant, or encounter a lioness, like somebody we know did.

The lions leave you pretty much alone in the daytime…unless you are on a bicycle. Something about the bicycles make them want to chase. Several people at the park had close encounters with lions swiping them off their bicycles, but running off when other people came to their cries for help.

At night though, the lions are king and no sane person would be out and about then.

My parents had to baboon proof their house, and learned quickly to never leave a window open when they weren’t there…the neighbors did and we all saw the mess the baboons made of their house.

My parents had a regular visitor whenever they were there – a kudu that would eat out of their hands. It ate out of mine too, on one visit. On the one hand it was an amazing experience, on the other I disliked the fact that it was becoming tame – being tame makes a wild animal vulnerable. I have a picture of the kudu somewhere…not sure where.


After all my American cyber friends oooh’d and aaah’d and said how cool that was, lamenting that they only have moose and bears in their backyards, I said:

It is pretty cool, huh? I think moose and bear are cool too!

There was once a herd of giraffe close to the cottage. One came and browsed on the leaves of a tree overhanging that same window where my dad is painting. It stood so close to the window, I could see the ticks on it’s skin. It’s legs were about as high as my dad’s head in the picture.

Another regular visitor at the cottage was a momma warthog and her babies. They called her ‘stompstert’ (blunt tail) because she had only a stump of a tail left – my dad thought she lost it to a predator once.

There was also a small steenbok (tiny little antelope) and his mate around the cottage all the time (but they weren’t tame) and a whole family of banded mongooses. The mongoose family kept my mom and dad very entertained and I heard a lot about them but I never managed to see them for myself. 

The baboons got pretty bold…we’d be sitting on the front verandah and they’d try ot sneak in the back door to grab the fruit from the fruit bowl. We learned after a while to keep the doors closed. A grown male baboon is pretty scary looking, with their big jugulars.

My parents sold the cottage the year before last. The upkeep was getting to be a bit much. They spent much of the money to come here to the States for their long visit when Jenna was born. My sister and her hubby meanwhile, have joined togehther with some of their buddies and built a large, fancy house on one of these game reserve type parks, also right on the border of the Kruger National Park.

The whole family will be vacationing there in 2 weeks time for my sister’s birthday…sniff.

The talk turned to wild horses, so I said:

My uncle had a herd of horses on his farm. Some of them had become semi-wild over time but they would still come to the landrover for treats when they saw it.

A herd of cattle on the farm had been left to go wild too. (It was a game farm) They were some of the most elusive animals on the farm – we’d go for a game drive and the impala’s or wildebeest or zebras would stand and stare at us but the cattle would go and hide in the thick brush.

Heather said: That would be so amazing, to wake up and see giraffes or elephants or any of the other animals that you mentioned, right out side my window!

I replied:

Yes, it’s quite a feeling getting up with the sunrise…and tiptoeing to the window to see if there is anything out there…I loved it. Listening to the animal sounds at night around the campfire was a treat too. I was always nervous being outside at night though, even though it was just a few yards from the house.

There were leopards on the farm (this was the family farm, not the cottage that is in the picture) and the toilet was an outhouse, quite some distance away. My sisters and I always used to wake one another up if we wanted to go…

We’d go hiking in the hills behind the house, knowing there were leopards there… we’d see the trails the animals make in the undergrowth, some of them would lead to little caves and dens… You could tell if it was an old trail though or a new one, and we’d go exploring if the trail was old. The baboons also would let us know if there were leopards in the area, they normally give the leopards a wide berth and if there were baboons in the hills we were pretty sure the leopards were elsewhere.

The farm was also fascinating from an archeological perspective, we found many stone-age artifacts and iron age spearheads and stuff there. There were remnants of circular stone huts in the hills behind the house. One rock, overlooking a waterhole, had marks on it where people from long ago had sharpened their tools.
My sister and I found a whole string of blue beads half-buried in the dirt near the circular huts once. They had been strung together, but the string was long gone, and were interspersed with coiled wire, but the wire disintegrated when we touched it. My dad had been an archeology major in university and he had a special interest in all that stuff. An expert friend whom we asked about the beads said they were very, very old…used as trade beads, and could date back to the time of the Queen of Sheba in the bible. We also found old bullet heads – dating from the anglo-boerwar at the turn of the century.

The hills were formed out of sandstone, and there were the remnants of petrified cycads, lots of fossils, potholes, and other interesting stuff to find. We once found little petrified things resembling fruit – almost pear-shaped, it looked like it had a big pip in the middle like a peach. I wish we had kept a sample of the fruit thingies. As I type this it seems so out of this world-ish. 

Anyhow, it was a fascinating, fascinating place to visit. My uncle sold it a couple of years ago for a tidy sum (a six digit number). They have an agreement with the people that bought it that they can still go to visit it any time. I would love to see it again.

At this point all my freidns decided they want to stow away in my luggage and come with me next time I visit South Africa.

I replied:

I used to drive all my friends nuts after a holiday on the farm. I’d talk about the farm non-stop! I am really grateful that I had such a wonderful childhood being able to visit all these places.

We had a beach cottage too, and I got to know the ocean really well. We befriended the surfers and used to go out surfing in huge waves…much bigger than anything I’ve seen here…had some scary experiences and learned to respect the ocean…that would have to go in another thread.

Then we also had a second family farm…this one was a mish mash farm with cattle, pigs, sheep, corn, and just wild open land. I have lots of childhood memories of playing in the shelled corn husks and how horribly itchy we were at the end of the day.

None of the places had electricity…which added to the magic of it all.

I could go on and on about the game farm in particular…it was such a special place to me…but I’ll spare you all that.

I just wish I could have had the opportunity to provide my own kids with such a broad range of experiences as I had. It really made my life much richer.


More posts with me just being chatty:

There was a weird rock formation on the farm. Close to the hills, but it stuck out because there was no other rocks around it. It looked a bit like a mushroom – a big rock stacked on two smaller ones. My aunt was convinced that it was some grave from long ago, but she could never get anyone to look at it.

The farm was also rich in minerals – a mining company had come and sunk probes underground to take samples. I had a few of the samples – it was coal, the mining company had written a number on the side to say at what depth and location they had gotten it. My uncle felt that getting miners on the land would spoil it though.

My uncle and his sons had aeroplane licences…he had owned a small aircraft charter company at one time…and sometimes they would take us on airplane rides. One part of the farm was kept cleared as a runway. Sometimes it was hard to take off because there were animals in the way.

The little Piper that they kept on the farm was in a hangar near the airfield – but sustained frequent damage from the baboons playing around on it. My uncle and the baboons had a vendetta – there were times he would shoot a baboon and hang it’s carcass near the hangars to keep the others away.

The baboons grew clever though, and eventually learned to keep their distance. There were 2 sets of hills. One right behind the house, another some distance away accross a dam. When my uncle was on the farm, the baboons normally kept to the hills further away. But the minute…and staff members told us…the minute he left, they’d come accross – sometimes they would play on the thatched roofs of the huts we slept in (There wasn’t a farm house, just a kitchen , a verandah and living room. All the bedrooms were detached huts some distance from the “house”) They would slide down the roofs and pull the thatch out.  They were pests! 

He had some interesting pets though…a rock rabbit (hyrax) (I have memories of them visiting us in town with it and it hiding underneath our stove), an orphaned bushbuck that loved the babanas we fed it and eventually returned to the wild – it joined a herd of kudu’s and thought it was one. he had a pet baboon too for a short while, but baboons make dangerous pets.

They had baby ostriches… but when these were left to go wild it wasn’t a pretty story. I’ll save that for another post sometime…this is getting long.

Later on I got approached by a friend to help him do research for a college paper on South Africa, so I visited the topic again:

I have been approached by a friend who is doing a study on South Africa to tell him a bit about my life there. It brought me back to this old post (and the Africa study one in the history section).

Reading back on this I myself can’t believe I had such a wonderfully rich childhood. 

It saddens me that my kids do not have this. They do not appreciate the outdoors the way I do…granted, here in Florida the weather is so hot and muggy (and buggy) most of the year that unless you are doing something that involves getting wet to cool off you don’t WANT to be outside.  Still, yesterday was such a gorgeous day here and the boys wanted to be home to watch the Spongebob Squarepants marathon more than they wanted to go for a walk at the nature preserve nearby. 

As for the ostriches: they were so used to humans that they became too big for their boots. Sometimes, during the breeding season they would run after the landrover when we went on game drives. They would follow the vehicle along the length of their territory until we left it. At that point they would give a little ‘victory dance’.  They would bend their knees and sway from side to side with their wings outstretched. To me, seeing one of these victory dances was one of the highlights of a game drive, as a child I found it very impressive.

My cousin later had a major run-in with one of these hand-reared ostriches. He was riding his dirt-bike on the farm (we called it a ‘scrambler’) and happened to go though one of these ostriches’ territory. The ostrich chased him down – and the bike was slowed down by a patch of loose dirt on the road. My cousin got off the bike and the ostrich chased him around a tree – he swung at the ostrich with a big broken branch but the ostrich kicked him just above his eye. My aunt said the scene resembled a battle field – there was blood everywhere. The ostrich got hurt too (and was later shot by my uncle and made into ostrich ‘biltong’  ) because he left my cousin alone after kicking him. Ostriches can trample you or disembowel you with a kick to the stomach (if you are standing up), thankfully he only got my cousin’s head.

When my aunt and uncle came home (they had gone for a drive somewhere) after the incident my uncle was very angry because he saw the dirt bike left by the side of the road. He went inside to give his son a talking to when he found him at the basin, washing his wound. He couldn’t tell his parents how he got the wound, he had no memory of the whole incident…to this day…. what I told you was what his parents figured out after looking at the tracks at the ‘battle scene’.

They took him to the doctor, who said he seemed to be fine but my aunt insisted on x-rays (my cousin was acting strangely and was a bit concussed). The x-rays showed a fractured scull – with splinters millimetres from his brain.  My aunt was always very thankful that she had pushed for the x-ray. My cousin recovered fine.

The same cousin had some run-ins with other animals too – especially a male giraffe that kept chasing him up a wind-mill type waterpump and would hang around the vicinity, not letting my cousin come down for hours. My cousin was supposed to be making repairs to the pump but it took him quite a long time to do it.  There were some other incidents with the giraffe bull. My uncle decided the giraffe was becoming dangerous too and he ended up being giraffe ‘biltong’ as well.  Having agressive giraffes is not common, they are usually very docile.

Hubby and I went out on the scrambler ourselves. We’d climb the hill behind the house and look for the giraffes’ necks sticking out above the trees. Then we’d take the scrambler to go find them. Once, we drove in between a herd. They were on either sides of us when the scrambler hit some loose dirt again. (think beach sand) Hubby couldn’t control the bike and asked me to get off.   Meanwhile the giraffe bull was walking closer to us to investigate. Thankfully the patch of loose dirt wasn’t too long and I got back on the bike and we were out of there!

That was the end of that discussion. Another friend once asked me about South African history from my perspective, I’ll post snippets about that here:

South African study:

About weird South African foods:

The Venda people in South Africa love eating Mopani worms. My uncle has a game farm in the region and every summer Venda tribespeople pay him a small fee to come and harvest the worms off his trees. It is a very icky, gross affair because they disembowel the worms right there. 
I have never actually witnessed the harvest, but once while out on a game drive my aunt stopped underneath a Mopani tree just so we could listen to the scores of worms munching away. It was really loud.
The Venda either make a kind of worm stew, or they dry the worms. The dried ones are very popular and are for sale in stores accross the country. I think they look very unappetising!

About culture:

 My dad’s company sponsored the building of schools for under priviledged children in Zululand (KwaZulu) years ago and he was priviledged to be invited to the Zulu king’s home for tea once. He said that while he was there many of the king’s subjects would come to petition him about something or the other. They would crawl on all fours to the king’s throne to show him respect. Once they were done talking to the king, they would crawl out again – backwards this time, because it is considered impolite to show the king your rear end.

African culture is very different from our western culture. In Africa, it is considered rude to speak to someone more important than you first. You wait for them to acknowledge you. Here in the west, we think a lack of eye-contact is a sign that someone is untrustworthy, there it is a sign of respect. African people tend to talk very loud. That is because it is rude to keep secrets from other people. They talk loud so that nobody can accuse them of conspiring behind another’s back. In African culture, when you are introduced to a stranger it is good manners to talk about the weather. It is important that you convey to the other person that you are keen to linger and chat with them, because to be in a hurry is in bad taste. African handshakes are surprisingly limp, not firm like ours. I haven’t asked why, but I suspect they think handshakes should be a friendly, submissive touch, not an expression of strengh. If you share the same last name as another person, you are brothers, no matter how distantly you are related. (This my Zulu lecturer at university told me)

Today the tribes are somewhat westernised, except for the very rural regions in South Africa. In the cities it is a melting-pot of different tribes and cultures and many are losing their cultural identity. Of the tribes, the Zulu is the one Americans have heard about the most, they are famous for their high-kicking warrior dances, and a lot of movies, like Shaka Zulu, has been made featuring the Zulu nation. We had a team of Zulu’s here in our town a couple of years ago to work on the grass thatch roof of the local zoo’s gift shop and main entrance.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest threats to the tribes in South Africa today (and the Zulu tribe in particular) is A.I.D.S. It is rampant. South Africa has one of the highest cases of AIDS per capita in the world.


Weather: South Africa isn’t called sunny South Africa for nothing. It has one of the most beautiful climates in the world. The rainfall, generally speaking, isn’t as high as here. On the east coast the weather is more sub-tropical because of the warm Mozambique current flowing along the coast. On the west side there is a cold water current, the Benguela, and the west coast is semi-desert. The southern tip of Africa has a Mediteranean climate, with wet winters and dry summers. I’m from the central part, where the weather is very temperate, winter averages of 50’s, summer highs averaging in the 80’s.
It’s easy to have a very out-doorsy lifestyle there. Most people do not have air-conditioning. I really found it hard adjusting to the constant hum of the air-conditioner here, and the fact that you do not hear the bird-song outside because you have to keep your windows shut! We also didn’t have bug-screen on our windows – there weren’t that many (yucky) bugs around, even in summer. One of the biggest reasons I was reluctant to come to Florida (believe it or not) was the weather here.

Snow is something most of Africa rarely encounters. It snows some on high mountain peaks like Kilimanjaro. In South Africa it snows every year in the mountains
that form the southern escarpment. It doesn’t cover a large area though, if you compare it to the size of the country.

We don’t seem to encounter the really violent storms like tornadoes and hurricanes much at all. Africa’s disasters are often more quiet yet deliberate. Drought in Africa can be devastating, and seems to go hand in hand with El Nino. I believe El Nino causes flooding here? Anyhow, it has just the opposite effect in Southern Africa, if not the whole of Africa.

About foods: It depends where you live and what you buy. South Africa is a pretty developed country, and yes, the foods there have a lot of artificial additives. I do find that the bread there doesn’t have as much junk added to it. It is more wholesome. It is also really easy to find fresh fruit juices (no preservatives!) of all varieties there: in addition to the usual apple, orange and grape juices you can find apricot, peach, papaja, youngberry, mango, litchi, melon juices and more. I really miss that. I think fruit are allowed to ripen on the trees more before picking, because they generally have a lot more flavor. I notice that when you buy chicken pieces here, they often come packaged in a solution with a preservative in it! I hate that! It doesn’t happen as often there, although I think they are starting to do it too. Chicken breast pieces here are soooo large. I can only wonder what hormones they feed the poor things (and us). They are smaller there.

I think the less developed countries have a lot less additives in their foods.

About open markets: Because South Africa is so developed, there are big supermarkets there. In fact, we had the equivalent of a Super-Walmart there long before I saw any here. I think the less developed countries further north have open markets. Because there are many un-employed people in South Africa, more and more hawkers are found next to the roadways, selling their wares. When you stop at a traffic light you are often met by hawkers selling stuff like fruit, veggies, crafts, hangers, trash bags, etc.

About the first free elections in 1994:

I will never forget the day of the first free elections in South Africa. Black and Whites
stood together in long lines waiting for the opportunity to vote. It was incredibly moving to see the sense of dignity that was written over the faces of those who had until then been deprived of the right to vote. As we all stood there together, sharing laughs and stories, we felt like one nation.

A comment on African culture:

My mom read this and shared something my grandfather told her from his many mission and business trips to the tribal leaders of South Africa. She told of how he would walk for miles upon miles to get to the chiefs’ palaces. When they were ushered into the chiefs’ presence, they would be ready to talk business, but the chief would ignore my granddad and his entourage flat out.  The chief was teaching them the right protocol – Africa-style. Once the room was quiet and all eyes on the chief, he would finally look up and greet them one by one. “Sawubona (literally – I see you/ acknowledge you) How are you? How is your wife? How are your children? did you have a good trip? etc.”
He would take the time to do the same with each of his visitors. Only then was it polite to do business.
This story so illustrates african culture. Family is everything. Business can wait. People are more important. We as westerners often get impatient with the slow way things happen in Africa. We have such a foolish pride in our ability to get things done. But we have much to learn from them.


7 responses to “My Africa

  1. My sister in law is from South Africa. She lives here in Chattanooga,TN now but the rest of her family is in Florida (Tampa area) or back in SA.

  2. Adam and I will be reading The Story of David Livingstone this fall. I will also read him your first hand account of life in South Africa. Thank you for sharing.

  3. The farm is looking great.Dolf no longer cultivates as he has turned it into a Game Farm. He has retained 100 or so of his Brahmans. He has added Kudu, Impala and Duiker, Steenbok, Warthog, Bushpig, Anteaters,Jackalls,Brown Heina and the smaller mamals. The Bluegums have been removed along the stream and all the dams are full. The bush is dense. Oh, it is so “lekker” to be there and to enjoy being away from air and noise pollution. To look up into the clear night sky and to listen to the “music” of the birds by day and the sounds of night.

  4. Pingback: Gratituesday ~ August 25, 2009 « Valley Life In Alaska

  5. WOW!!! U R BRAVE

  6. Thanks so much for writing this Sumi. I’m on leave, at home, in London. Much of what you’ve written has brought a deep yearning in me to return to Africa.

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