The most senior Hunter’s face was wrinkled with lines showing his wisdom, experience, a hard life; and lots of laughter lines. Some people just have that natural ability to communicate well without any shared language with body language and facial expressions. He explained how they hunt, use plants for medicine and their way of life in Ju/’Hoansi language (the “/’ ” represents a click sound). We were mesmerised by the sound of the language, with its 4 different clicking sounds that rolled so easily off his tongue. Our guide/translator Erinie had one of the best laughs I had ever heard, a glorious rising crescendo of mirthful whoops. Her laugh, along with our own and all the other San people there, encouraged him into further pantomimed explanations. “How to hunt an elephant”: was what you should do if you see one while hunting……run away as quickly as you can!
We had by chance found out about a “Living Museum” community project in a San Bushman village about 80kms from Roy’s Camp, our campsite. We wanted to know more about this traditional tribal way of life. So along with Jolanda: half of a Swiss couple who are riding their motorbikes around Africa, we set off along the gravel road with a sandy 6km track at the end. We drove into their modern village, the usual mix of mud and corrugated iron huts where we found a smart sign saying “Reception” under a tree with a table. Here the fees were efficiently recorded for the community’s shared coffers by a young man who couldn’t have looked more Bushman like if he tried. He was shorter than me, with very light brown skin, almond shaped eyes and high cheekbones.
They had reconstructed an old fashioned San village a little way away, with members of the community wearing more traditional clothes, to show how they used to live. Taking a walk in the bush the Hunter told us about medicinal plants, how they set traps for birds, hunt and even about the poisonous caterpillars they use to tip their arrows. Back at the huts the ladies showed us how to make jewellery from seeds and ostrich egg shell pieces. The men showed Steve how to make a bow and he and the girls tried their hand at shooting them. Once again their was much banter, jesting, as well as some very patient explanations on how to do it properly. Back at the fire as we asked questions often 2 or 3 people would answer our questions enthusiastically, leaving Erinie to translate all the answers back patiently. Although most of the villagers didn’t speak English, she had learnt it at school. Singing, dancing, games and healing ceremonies are rituals that hold a community together. Of course that afternoon they were being performed for us, paying tourists, but there was none of the jaded looks you sometimes get at this sort of thing. Just lots of chat, affection and laughter between the generations.
Life for the San Bushmen, as a small hunter gathering society amongst far more and far larger farming communities, has not been and is still not easy. But the people we met were proud of their traditions and enthusiastic, upbeat about explaining them to us. Erinie had explained that the “Museum”,as well as generating much needed income for the village, also helped teach their children positively about the old ways, as they often came over after school has finished.
The day before we had driven out of Etosha National Park with a dirty truck, piles of dirty laundry and no food. After our 9 days of fabulous game driving there, it was time to do some jobs before we headed north-east into the Caprivi Strip and then south to Botswana. But we finished our jobs in double time when we had learnt about the possibility of learning about the San Bushmen.
Before we could go Alisha had to finish off her school year with a English test. Although there is no formal need in the UK’s education system to test her annually at this age, I like to check that everything is all on track. She passed that and her Maths with flying colours. They will take another break in a couple of months while we ship to Australia, so we have decided to keep this summer break short.
Namibia is divided by a fence due to cattle foot and mouth disease. On a practical point it meant that we weren’t able to take red meat across it southwards and we had to have our tyres and shoes sprayed with disinfectant. But it also delineated between the southern part often with white owned big farms and the more black subsistence farming in the north. Namibia has a very low population density but it is a lot greater north of the vet fence. North of the fence we were back in “real” Africa with no fences either side of the road and small homesteads of mud huts and reed kraals.
Halfway along the Caprivi Strip we turned south following the Okavango river. We spent a couple of nights camped up beside it listening to the sound of hippos grunting in the night. Negepi camp had lots of quirky bathrooms and Steve got a chance of a rare proper night out (I mean one without children that didn’t finish at 9pm. Oh, what we would do for a babysitter sometimes!) with a friendly Namibian tour guide. The following afternoon we drove out to the nearby Mohango National Park along with the Jolanda and Chris, the Swiss bikers, as motorbikes are not allowed in National Parks. Along the river we saw lots of hippos, elephants and many of the rarer antelopes.
It was a painless crossing into Botswana the following morning and just a short drive to Drotsky’s Cabins, also on the banks of the Okavango river. Taking a boat out on the river the following afternoon we attempted to catch some big Tiger fish, which have fearsome mouths of teeth, with little luck but we did get to see lots of birds.
There was much excitement the following morning, as Alisha turned 10. She was thrilled with her presents, most of which were on a Victorian theme: a period of history that really fascinates her, especially the doll’s house within a book I’d found back in the UK for her. She loved the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice series, the one with Colin Firth, I introduced her to a while back. She isn’t up to reading Jane Austin’s original yet but she loves the story so much, so she was very happy with Lizzy Bennet’s diary and the characters’ paper dolls. There was lots of “Oh, Mr Bennet!” role play going on all afternoon.
Tsodilo Hills is a UNESCO listed San Bushman rock art site, we walked off the birthday cake hiking around the site. Many of the paintings on the hills were 4000 years old and we saw just a tiny fraction. Our interesting guide was a bushman who had been born in the hills and still remembered living there with his family before the village was relocated nearby.
The following morning we took off to the “safari capital of Botswana” of Maun, the entrance to the Okavango Delta, to see what excitement might lie there….