|Posted by Cindy-Lou Dale on May 2, 2011 at 5:44 AM|
When the shadows lengthened and the light softened Foster, my ranger, and I made our way to a waterhole. The sun caught itself on a tree on the far bank and bled red and gold across the water, Foster presented me with a biscuit tin containing Grandma's Buttermilk Rusk's, these were an accompaniment to the Rooibos tea he offered. I cupped my hands in the African manner to receive then, having sufficiently softened a chunk of the cheerless rocklike scone in the steaming liquid I took in a mouthful of softened Rusk and a sip of tea, mixing the two together in my mouth. My mother called this concrete mixing and, as a child, I was not allowed to do this. I relayed this memory to Foster, thus beginning a dialogue about our parents.
He blew across the rim of his mug to cool his bush tea; a small wisp of steam caught in a beam of fading sunlight then disappeared. He puckered his lips when he sipped, like a bushbuck from the water, then waved at the flies around him.'There flies, they are everywhere,' he said.
'I would like to find a land without flies. Is there such a country, do you think? I have not heard of such a place. I think that only in very cold places there are no flies.'
He contemplated this statement for a moment then thoughtfully added, 'In very big towns, there are no cattle to bring the flies - perhaps in such places, like in London. I do not think there are cattle in London. But there is a big green part of the town - I have seen a photograph. This part, this piece of bush, it is in the middle. Perhaps this is where the Queen keeps her cattle.'
I curled my hands around my mug and brought it to my lips, smiling at my tea.
I found Foster to be intelligent without being educated beyond school, sophisticated without ever having left Botswana, sharp without malice. He had a way about him, a gentleness which I'd almost forgotten could exist in a man, yet he was bulletproof and stood as if he owned the ground beneath his feet.
Later we were parked on a downward slope looking out across another lagoon which had the merest hint of translucent white mist still resting on it. Whilst the engine ticked itself cool a chorus of frogs called out in alarm as a flock of black egret's tented their wings over their heads, aiding their foraging. Foster and I were slumped to our haunches, leaning up against the 4x4's front tyre, resting elbows on knees. Foster spoke of Africa; his voice rising and falling like wind coming from a distance.
'Why do you wear a hat?' Foster suddenly enquired.
'You are fighting nature and you cannot win.'
True, my freckles had merged with sun-spots and had now become one, which had made me brown all over, like a pale biscuit put into the oven.
'You are slowly becoming African.'
I considered this statement for a moment then helpfully added that one day I may wake to find that I was from the Tswana tribe, and be the same colour as he was.
Foster nodded solemnly, acknowledging that this may indeed come about. We sat slouched, in a comfortable silence observing the landscape.
Foster raised a clenched fist in a black power salute, commanding instant attention and silence. With the other hand he pointed towards tall grass moving slowly in the wind. I stared intently then saw it too; the grass in one particular place moved in a different direction. Then a leopard cautiously peered through the grass; he looked in either direction - left then right then left again, as if he was making his way across a busy road. He gingerly padded to the water's edge then silently started lapping. I lifted my camera, which had a 600mm zoom lens stuck on the front. My wide-angle lens was lying safely on the passenger seat! I cursed under my breath as this was going to be far too a close crop. The whir-click sound as I depressed the camera's trigger startled the leopard who quickly retreated to the bush. Simultaneously I quietly opened the 4x4's door and swapped cameras.
Too late, I thought, berating myself. I squatted back down beside the front tyre, disappointed at losing a great photo opportunity.
As if reading my mind Foster again pointed to the opposite bank. The leopard had climbed up onto an ant hill and was scouting the landscape, trying to source the sound that had alarmed him. I lifted my camera and found the shot.
Satisfied I turned to smile at Foster who had brought a clenched fist to his mouth. Tears were unashamedly coursing down his cheeks. Slowly he wiped his face with the flattened palm of his hand; a gesture of a man not accustomed to the convenience of a napkin. We sat in silence for a while longer, sharing a moment Africa had given us. I felt honoured to be in the presence of a man who stood for kindness and generosity, a man who understood the land which he was part of; who stood for Africa and the love and creatures it contained.
I reached out a hand and held it in such a way that he could take it if he wished. It was my way of reaffirming an old bond that had always held Africans together. There was no simpler or more effective way of expressing respect.