Once upon a time in the Mashatu Game Reserve, I was the only women in a crew of 4; Nluu* (not his real name),a photo journalist, Sloo, the driver and Godi our tour guide.
Godi occupied the furthest and elevated seat at the back. For the purpose.
I still recall warning signs scattered all over Reserve, “Mashatu animals are wild”.
We were taking pictures for a TV programme.
Our two day visit consisted of early morning game drives in an open Safari van. We would leave the hotel at 6am. At 9am, Sloo would set up the table for a full English breakfast, complete with steaming hot tea. This would also mark the end of our morning drive.
We occupied the rest of the morning working in and around the vicinity of our hotel. Conducting interviews, and taking more pictures. The intention was to leave the reserve with as many programme segments as possible.
At 3pm we would be back in the truck, heading for water holes that were afternoon favourites for some of the animals. Everything worked as scripted, even to the amazement of our tour guides. We encounted troups upon troups of wild animals.
Day 2: Almost halfway through our morning drive, Godi announced seeing elephants ahead.
You don’t visit the land of the giants and come back without their story.
We found them waiting. The entire clan; nursing mothers and their babies , possibly also uncles, aunts and the grandparents. Huge in numbers and build. Intimidating.
The sight of wild animals doesn’t often excite me. It’s good to see them so I don’t only rely on book knowledge. But it is not something I’ll move mountains for; probably because I grew up in a village, at the foot of a hill. There were seasons we would come home from school to find our yard packed with baboons, feeding on our melons. Snakes and scorpions were also common visitors at our home. Kudus used to appear from the hill behind.
At the lands/farm/masimo ( whatever you call it), we feasted on porcupines, ostriches, hares, kudus etc. You see I grew up amongst them. So I cannot, now all grown up, pretend to like animals so much as to travel distances just to admire them. But I can be good company.
The elephants were on our left, facing us. I was sitting to the right of Nluu. The weather was good; blotches of thick clouds, leaving gaps of blue sky for a beautiful picture quality. The only sound was when Nluu changed positions. We needed to capture aesthetics, the ambiences, the unadulterated silent noises of the moment.
Then the mama elephant turned around, giving us her back – and slowly, they all turned and walked away. The mother following closely behind.
“That is not a good sign. I think it is preparing to attack”. I don’t remember who said it between Sloo and Godi.
Elephants are matriarchal. Mothers and grandmothers see to the welfare of the family. They guard and protect their own.
True to tradition, she came back, flapping her wide ears; coming for us. Her screeching cries stayed with me for, I-don’t-know-how- long. Sloo revved the car Engine. She stopped, turned around as if to re-join the rest of the family.
The shooting had continued. The car had not moved.
“Sloo tou e eta. A re tsamaeng”, warned Godi.
To our shock, the mama elephant was approaching faster and more furious than the first time, leaving a cloud of dust in her trail. No amount of revving could slow her down. She had made her mind.
The road was rocky and bumpy, making it impossible for Sloo to drive as fast as we had wished. The elephantsfollowed closely behind, atleast from its cries.
“Sloo kana tou e gorogile”, you could smell fear in Godi’s voice.
“Monna Godi o tshosa di-guests”, Sloo tried to adhere to protocol.
“Wa re ke tshosa di-guests. Ka re tou ke e”.
Although the frequency of updates on the lurking danger was unwelcome then, in retrospect, I understand his situation. He was the closest to the angry elephant.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at the back to check our proximity to the attacking elephant. I could only muster a silent prayer “Lord please safe our lives”. Then I waited for her to wrap her trunk around my neck and pull me out of the truck. Oh me of little faith!
She was not going to do that while I looked.
Answer to our prayer came in the form of a river. Either from laziness or too much anger but she chose not to descend the deep river. We watched, from the river, as she angrily pulled out fully grown trees. Her voice too loud and too angry.
But we still had a journey back to the hotel….