Thursday, April 30, 2009

27 Feb (Fri)

Today is Keita’s birthday. We had prepped her for a few days before hand and she had practiced singing happy birthday to herself. When she was having her morning bottle I reminded her that it was her birthday and she was full of smiles. We presented her with a stuffed lion and a stuffed giraffe, which she seemed to like. The rest of the day was spent preparing for the party. Frannette baked a brilliant chocolate cake in a pot on coals and Rio helped decorate with smarties and finger biscuits dipped in chocolate.

We had a birthday picnic party. Friends are here from Durban for the occasion so we can have a real party. We decided to go back to the beautiful, remote island where we had reconstructed the hippo, despite the fact that there is a vehicle-destroying water crossing to get there. So we packed a picnic and headed off, stopping for a swim in the water crossing on the way.

Brad had picked out a spot where there was shade and flat ground so we set up the camera (becoming tedious in the extreme) and set up the picnic. Keita opened her presents on the car, then blew out her candles. This behind the scenes filming is really becoming a pain. All spontaneity is lost and the kids are constantly being constrained by us, being told to wait, do it again, do it differently etc.

After the food and the filming we had a fabulous game of frisby and an insane game where Rio and Anthony were on the roof of the car and the adults were throwing the ball to them to catch. It is a wonder nobody fell off. Negligent parents 101. But is was great fun and we left the picnic in very good spirits with all 3 kids perched on the windscreen of our pink-balloon-adorned car, singing happy birthday over and over again. There were 3 storms on the horizon and it was a brilliant balmy evening and was wonderful with my Rio snuggled on my lap, driving slowly watching the stars and the sky.

That night, back in camp with all safely tucked in, Brad and I were visiting the long drop. It is always better to do this in teams considering there are no fences and it is a 60 metre walk from the camp. While there we heard Amanda shouting that there was a hyena heading down the path towards us. The hyenas in this part are not to be trifled with so Brad grabbed some clods of earth and headed at a pace down the path, his logic being that one should confront it with aggression. This seemed to work because it detoured off the path as soon as it saw us coming. When relating this incident to Caryn, a friend of mine on skype the following day, she said “at least you were in the right place to shit yourself”. She is very funny. 

26 Feb (Thurs)

Have been filming a lot if the Behind The Scenes stuff for the programme. I have a clear idea of what I want to produce but am not managing to achieve it. This feeds my major insecurity about the fact that I am trying to do constructive work while simultaneously keeping the family sane and intact (in the unusual circumstances we are in) and actually not managing to do either very well. I am a generally diligent, A-type, irritating person and creating sub-standard anything sparks off a low-grade panic in my system. I have come to realize that this is why I manage to stay thin despite consuming alarming amounts of food. Since I have had kids I have been in a permanent state of latent hysteria that I am not doing it well enough. This burns up lots of calories.

The toss up is which ‘job’ to focus on. I could abdicate all parenting responsibilities to She-Who-Is-Calm-And-Happy-At-All-Times and reclaim the kids when they are well-nourished, polite, relaxed 10 year olds. I could then focus all my energy on doing fabulous work, which I know I am capable of, instead of churning out the mindless drivel I am currently producing. Sometimes I think this is a really good idea. The major upside is that the kids will probably at least respect me, even if they don’t know me very well.

The alternative is to dedicate my entire self to raising kids. This is such a nice idea in theory. There are some drawbacks however. First and foremost, Keita would never actually eat. She will only eat when Frannette removes her from all external stimulation and puts her in an empty tent and does whatever she does to make the food go down. I don’t believe in this. My theory is that she must learn to eat socially as everyone must do and I think she will eventually get hungry enough to do this. This is why she lost one third of her body weight when Frannette was on leave for 3 weeks.

The second major drawback is my sanity. My children are high maintenance and will only spend fractions of time entertaining themselves or playing together. In our innocence we created this monster but now we have a situation where they always want to play with mommy or daddy. Daddy films a lot so I spend my afternoons playing armies, or baby mongoose, or Lion King. I am not Frannette so for me, after an hour this gets tedious. Summer is great because we swim a lot and even I can do this with enthusiasm. Not sure what I will do in winter.

So I am in this weird space. When I am working in the mornings my mind is on the kids, and when I am playing with the kids in the afternoon my mind is on all the work I that is piling up. Not very satisfying at all. I have heard that other people manage to have children and still function in a work capacity. Maybe they are less neurotic.  

My mission now is to be where I am at, absolutely at that time, and not half way in between.

So, back to Behind-The-Scenes … Rio has now rebelled and will not be on camera at all. There were the most wonderful, spontaneous moments that I would hear from my office tent, rush out and make them redo – spontaneously. I now have to bribe him, but he is getting wise to this. He took the chocolate I promised him and hid behind the tent until it was all eaten, then still refused to recatch the toad. Every time Keita sees me with a camera she rushes to me, attaches herself like a limpet to my legs and demands a hug. It is a fiasco. All the time I have the office producer sending me helpful e-mails about what sort of content they would like to see coming out of Moremi. I sent a few whining sort of mails in response about how difficult it is because the kids have now developed a pathological hatred for, and jealousy of, the camera, but it does seem like an excuse. Back to the point I made above …

Gotta just do it. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

24 Feb (Tues)

In the afternoon we go to the hippo skeleton. Brad and Graham had found it when exploring a previously inaccessible island far north of our camp. Once the water receded somewhat we were able to access the area, barely. Strangely most of the bones are there and have not been disturbed by predators or scavengers. Judging by the size it was an old bull, and we assume he died from wounds sustained in a fight. We plan to reconstruct the skeleton because it makes a nice behind the scenes insert for the show.

We have to cross a huge river crossing to get there. The car literally swims across, which astounds the kids. In this environment we have to go through lots of deep water, but this is the deepest yet (over 4 foot of water). As we are half way through a large croc pops its head up, watching us. All of us silently hope that the car actually makes it across (being a petrol vehicle, albeit a modified one, it is not as equipped for such deep water) and we don’t have to fend off the croc while extricating ourselves.

We make it to the other side, find the hippo bones, reconstruct it to the best of our ability and film the process. It is a little frustrating for the kids because Brad and Graham are filming it and we need to be serious about it and they can’t simply run wild and play with all the bones as they want to do. Also we are a little concerned about the hygiene of it all, considering they all put their hands in their mouths and can probably pick up something horrible from the bones. They all lose interest very rapidly and head off to play in the sand elsewhere while Brad and Graham build it and I take (crap) photos.

Afterwards we go to a beautiful drying pan with black mud, white fallen trees and impeccable reflections for sundowners. Being us we launch into an immediate photo shoot. As we are walking into position Rio freaks out about the mud on his feet and has an epic tantrum. He is clearly deeply unhappy and tired and I suspect he is getting ill.  He has one of those totally terrifying, thoroughly irrational meltdowns where there is nothing one can do to pacify him and it simply must run it’s course. He calms down eventually and tries to be civil for a while but can’t really sustain it and the smallest things sets him off. We all tiptoe around him, have a stressful 2 hours in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We leave at last light and it is soon dark. On the drive home Rio, in his usual spot on the dashboard, staring out into the darkness, asks, “are octurnals big or small?” then falls asleep sitting up.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

23 Feb (Mon)

We heard lions roaring very close to camp all night. This was the loudest we have heard it since we have been here. They were the huge, guttural, blood curdling roars of two male lions, not the significantly less intense roars of the lionesses that we had been hearing most frequently. At 4 am Keita was awake (as usual) and I was lying with her while she was having her bottle when the lions started roaring again. They sounded like they were in Graham’s tent. Keita stopped sucking immediately and listened, very wide-eyed, to the noise. Once it had stopped she turned to me and said “It’s a rhino”. It occurred to me that she had never consciously heard a lion roar before. I told her it was a lion and she went back to sleep easily, but half an hour later woke up screaming “the lions are coming to get me”.  She spent the remainder of the evening in our bed.

Early in the morning we heard the vervet monkeys alarm calling in the trees fringing the camp. Brad radioed to say that they had been with the lions just behind the camp but were now leaving the sighting to go and find the buffalo herd further north. He casually mentioned that the male lion was lying on the anthill watching the camp and focused on the sights and sounds here, and that we should keep our eyes open and turn on the electric fence (which happened to be not working on that day).

Soon afterwards the vervet monkeys started leaping around and alarm calling and the impalas were running and snorting so we knew the lions were on the move. This was all too much excitement for Amanda (a friend who was visiting us) who didn’t dare venture to the longdrop the entire day. Eventually she made a public announcement that she was going for a wee in the potty in her tent and instructed us all to keep a close eye on the tent at while she did so, just in case something snuck up on her.

In the afternoon we took the opportunity to drive to the herd of buffalo which were camped out at Gnu Poo Pan, even thought they were just lying around in great brown heaps. Keita still has difficulty distinguishing buffalos from cows and is puzzled by the enthusiasm we show for these ‘brown cows’ when we drive past the other ones all the time in Maun without a second glance. She loves cows and goats more than anything though, so was very happy to see them.

Rio calls impala speedbuck for some reason, an apt name I think, and Keita calls them Mepalas. 

Mouse is doing well, apart from a bit of diarrhea. He is scoffing his Pro-Nutro and Mouse-Mother Frannette diligently rubs his tummy and bum after every feed. Rio and Keita love and adore him above all else, even me. 

22 Feb (Sun)

Brad is very anxious to get back to camp after a few days in Maun. As we are walking out our door a baby squirrel plummets out of the roof and lands at Brad’s feet. He debates putting it back in the roof where it came from but we know that Ma Joyce is about to launch a squirrel extermination so we would be sending it to it’s death. Clearly there is nothing to do but keep it, so we try and give him (we have now established that he is a him – not a difficult task with a squirrel) a drop of water and put him in a comfy box for the trip.

The trip is uneventful apart from the fact that Brad is driving, so a bit hair-raising. Find a couple from Orapa stuck in the mud. They have 2 young kids (3 and 2) and have been bogged down for two hours. They are very pleased to see us and Rio has a happy interlude with two new friends for all of 20 minutes.

Keita is convinced the squirrel is a mouse. No amount of explaining will convince her that it is anything but. The little guy is managing small amounts of soya formula (which is all we have) and seems ok so far.  

Emergency skype chats in the evening with Justine (expert raiser of baby things) inform us that she has chatted to everyone she knows who has raised a squirrel and what we need is Pro-Nutro for the baby. She has arranged to put some on a flight which is leaving to go to a nearby lodge the next morning, and we will go and collect it from there.   

Monday, April 27, 2009

19 Feb (Thurs)

I am getting into a routine of work for 2 hours in the morning and the kids are getting into their ‘school’ routine. Rio loves heading off to the classroom with Frannette to “pretend that she is the teacher and they are the kids”.

The pool has been a great hit, despite the fact that we pump water directly from the fringes of the lagoon behind the camp so it is 80% hippo pooh. This afternoon Rio was playing in the pool. He asked Pricka if he would come and swim with him. Pricka said he couldn’t cos he didn’t have a swimming costume. Rio said “that’s ok, I’m swimming in my nude, you can swim in your nude”. Cute.

Off to Maun today. The trip is definitely getting easier.


18 Feb (Wed)

I decided that I needed to experience life outside of the camp more. I am expected to post a daily blog about life behind the scenes in Moremi and I was even beginning to bore myself, nevermind the audience. So I was up and ready at 3 am. Did some pilates until it was time to wake Brad and we tried to sneak out without waking Rio. Unsuccessfully. So Rio came with. My attempt to launch into the real work world kid-free was not entirely to be. I was at least getting out though.

Putting aside my guilt at Keita waking up to find Frannette instead of me in the tent with her (which really is ridiculous because she loves the novelty of waking up to her Net instead of her already-grumpy-at-6am-cos-hasn’t-slept-all-night mum), we drove off into a spectacular sunrise.

We drove around for about 3 hours trying to find the lions, which were tantalizingly close, judging by the amount of tracks around. Unfortunately with no luck, so we returned home by 11.

In the afternoon we planned to go to the hippo carcass that the crew had found a few days earlier. It is apparently a very large bull and the carcass is intact in that most of the bones are there. We stopped off for a swim en route and as soon as we had finished a heavy rain started. We covered up the car and huddled inside, having great fun with the novelty of it all. Brad took the opportunity to film some shots of the rain on the pan, which is always a bit of a logistical nightmare as the CAMERA MUST STAY DRY AT ALL COSTS. It doesn’t matter so much about the people!

Afterwards Brad spent a solid 15 minutes terrifying the pants off the kids pretending to be the Zoogor from Tarzan. 

15 Feb (Sun)

Took the kids out game driving again. Rio assumed his usual position on the bonnet of the vehicle on the drive there and back. Despite The Elephant Incident the day before he seemed ok, although I still have a strong sense that this environment is overwhelming for him. I was worried about the effect The Elephant Incident would have on him. He was just beginning to be more relaxed in his environment when he went through one of the scarier events of my life (an surely the most scary event of his little life). The evening after The Elephant Incident he was very excited and chattered away for hours about how we could disguise ourselves in leaves and so on to stop the elephants getting to us. We expected him to have nightmares but in the morning he seemed fine and wasn’t willing to say much more about it. Keita, true to form, was completely unfazed.

On the way back, at about 8 pm and in pitch darkness, we heard the trumpet of an angry elephant and the thought went through all our minds that it was The Mad Cow again. Nothing more came of it however, and if it was Her and she did lead her herd in a charge after us, it was too dark to see. All Rio’s anxieties however, came to the fore again, and he again started questioning why we need to ever leave camp and why the elephant is cross and “why don’t we just go home now” and so on.

He struggled to go to sleep this evening, tantruming and trying to pick a fight, which eventually he succeeded in doing with Brad and which ended in tears and horribility. He was physically hiding in what would be a cupboard if we had cupboards. He put himself under the kikoi that is draped over an open shelf and refused to come out. I think he has a real terror of what is out there but is so intent on being big and brave and living up to our expectations. Hopefully he will develop those emotional resources quickly and come out the other side a strong, well rounded being.



Sunday, April 26, 2009

12 Feb (Thurs)

The story of a mad cow.

It is a bright, sunny day and we are game driving and filming some behind the scenes footage. Twenty minutes into our trip the car is stuttering and misfiring badly, and eventually stops completely. We all bail out, Brad fossicks around under the bonnet and comes up with a diagnosis that the fuel tank has some rust and debris in it and all the bits are clogging the fuel filter. He sets about changing the fuel filter while the kids happily entertain themselves near the vehicle by rolling in the sand pretending to be warthogs. Soon we are ready to go again and decide to head directly home as the fix is only a temporary one and the vehicle is still stuttering, barely managing to propel itself forward. As we round a corner onto a large floodplain we hear a piercing trumpet from a very angry elephant and see a large cow charging towards us.

This elephant has been around our area since we arrived. We know her because she has a total intolerance for vehicles and will chase them with serious intent until they are well out of her sight. We encountered her on our first drive up from Maun. We had seen the herd ahead and I had stopped the car within an acceptable distance of them. Most of the herd had already crossed the road and we waited for the stragglers to pass. When it was all clear we proceeded, only to hear the shriek of an angry elephant and see a female storming out of the bushes after us. This was utterly unprovoked and very unusual as none of the elephants we had seen cross the road showed any sign of stress. When we arrived at camp I remarked on the incident to Brad.

About two weeks later Brad and the crew were out filming when a similar situation happened. They stopped to film a breeding herd browsing close to the road. After a while the matriarch got scent of the vehicle, which was quietly parked with the engine off, and without hesitation charged. Female elephants will often mock charge, and as long as one sits still and is quiet and presents no threat they will flap their ears, shake their heads in warning and move off with the familiar ‘nose in the air’ posture. This female had her head down, her ears pinned back and was showing no sign of slowing down as she charged towards the vehicle. Realising that if they didn’t do something she would surely hit the car, Brad started the engine briefly and switched off again. This strange beast growling at her stopped her in her tracks and she skidded to a halt a few metres in front of the car, showing the crew with sand. She shook her head and moved off very slowly, watching them all the time, the crew still as statues in the vehicle. When she was about 100 metres away Brad started the car to drive off. The minute she heard the sound and saw the vehicle moving she was after them again, and chased them at full speed for about 1 km, through a pan and over floodplains, with the whole herd in tow.

When Brad was telling us this story later in camp he said he had never in all his years of being in the bush seen this behaviour before. It is common knowledge that elephants will back off once you are far enough away from them and are presenting no threat. Very few, apart from bulls in musth occasionally, will persevere with a charge for that distance.

So here we are with a vehicle that is stuttering and misfiring and we are being charged by a psychotic cow elephant. We are headed as fast as we can go across the floodplain with the entire herd in a cloud of dust hot on our heels. We get about 200 metres ahead of them when the car grinds to a halt. At this point I think even Brad panics. He immediately leaps out of the car to make a run at the herd and try and get them to turn back (a very brave and admiral - but probably slightly foolish - instinctual reaction considering the herd probably would have gone straight over him). The herd, thankfully, stops. It was only later that we realised it is the sound and sight of a moving motor vehicle that sets her off. As soon as the engine is off and the car is not moving she is relatively ok, that is, on high alert and in attack mode but not actually charging.

At that moment we don’t know that, and assume that at any moment she is going to make another run at the immibilised vehicle, with the entire family sitting ducks inside. Within seconds Brad instructes us all to get out of the car and run for the treeline, a good 200 metres away. This is not my first choice of action, however in an emergency situation, which this clearly is developing into, there can only be one chief and there is no time for debate. Without a second’s hesitation, Pricka (who was with us on a sightseeing tour) grabs Rio and heads for the trees. I grab Keita and follow, as much to stay close to Rio as to get to safety. Frannette for some reason grabs the Z7 camera and follows suit. We still aren’t sure why, perhaps because it was just lying there and, being Frannette, she felt the need to look after something. It was not as though she intended to shoot any footage.

The five of us (and camera) make for the treeline as fast as we can, which isn’t very fast considering we are barefoot and carrying the kids. Nobody looks back to see whether the herd had resumed the charge on the vehicle, or to see what Brad is doing. We are all scanning ahead for a tree that is big enough to protect us from a demented elephant and yet easy enough for us to climb. Needless to say there isn’t one. The treeline consisted of shrubs and would offer no protection at all should we need it. We continue onwards and westwards. Unable to run anymore we are now at a fast walk heading in the direction of home. We can see the elephant herd standing alert in the floodplain, watching the vehicle and not us. We had skirted around the edges of the floodplain, and if the elephants had caught sight or wind of us, it would have taken them no time at all to make a bee line across the middle and get to us. They were still only about 300 metres from us as the crow flies.

At this stage my mind turns to lions. This often happens when one is wandering through the delta on foot and unarmed with a nearly 5 year old and a nearly 2 year old. It is late afternoon and very hot and any lion in the vicinity would be lying up in the shade of the trees. By my calculations, the treeline offered us more potential danger than protection. The elephants haven’t moved, they are still intently focused on Brad who we can’t see but no doubt is under the bonnet of his car, frantically trying to get it started. We find the road and decide there is nothing to be done but head in the direction of camp and hope that either Brad gets the car going or that he has the sense to radio Nick or Graham in camp to come and fetch us before the lions do.

It is probably only twenty minutes (although feels longer) before we hear the sound of Brad’s vehicle behind us. Turning around I see Brad driving fast towards us, mouthing something inaudible, with the entire herd of elephants storming up behind him. He told us afterwards that as soon as he got the car started the cow resumed the charge, and again it was no mock charge. There was nothing to do but outrun them.

As he gets within earshot I realize he is telling us to “get !#**^!@ in !#$!::~^*#/ fast” ‘cos he isn’t planning on stopping”. Thankfully he slows down a bit and as he draws up alongside we fling the kids in the vehicle and grab onto the side, rodeo style. Neatly done. We drive off into the late afternoon sun in a small cloud of dust, with a much larger cloud of dust kicked up by the feet of 20 elephants following not far behind. 


11 Feb (Wed)

Horrible day.


Yesterday Keita was ill and very grumpy. Rio spent the entire day making a high-pitched noise and gazing at a single page of a “Where’s Wally?” book. At 9 pm he was still at it and I had to fight with him to turn off the torch and go to sleep. I find this alarming and depressing. My guilt is endless that I have turned my vibrant social butterfly into a weird thing. For all I know this is normal behaviour for a 5-year-old though. I have never consciously taken notice of a 5-year-old before. Kids to me were always like a very foreign species (Rio was very possibly the first baby that I had ever held) and I have no knowledge of what they do or don’t do. I am going to have to Skype my mom-friends and find out if their kids are doing the same thing. God parenting is difficult. It is so easy for some, like The Stepford Person for example, who doesn’t even have children and is only 23 years old. It is beyond me how she does it. And she even enjoys it.

The day looked promising when Graham radioed in that they had found a herd of buffalos at what we call Gnu Poo Pan, which is only about a km from camp. We decide to take a pre-breakfast jaunt out there before it gets to hot so that at least we can see something other than the confines of the tents.

We tootle along and soon find the buffalo, and at the same time get a radio call from Brad telling us we are interrupting their filming of their link and can we please go away. At this point the day goes downhill. We wait until they have completed and join up with them on the periphery of the herd. For some reason Keita loves cows and goats more than anything and to her a herd of buffalos is just like a herd of cows so she is in her element, ooing and aahing over them.

The day hit a low point later on when Frannette nearly fell into the long drop. Was horrific. Uncannily, I happened to be there as I was doing some photos of Keita on the loo, with ladybug wings and pink high heels. Keita dropped her shoes behind the loo and as Frannette went to pick them up her foot crashed through the surface and her entire leg disappeared into the chasm. Had Keita moved 30 cm to the side she would have been the one to break the surface and her little body would have fallen right through. I shudder to think. I have a rule that anyone who goes to the long-drop with the kiddies takes a bare-banger. At this rate we will have to tie a rope around them as well! Frannette as usual coped admirable with this horribility.

At least our attempt at moving away from the consumerist city influences is working. Rio had cooked up an imaginary dish for himself on Keita’s tea set and was tucking in with gusto. When I asked him what he was eating he said a chicken ferrari (meaning chicken sosatie). This pleases me immensely that he doesn’t know the difference between a car and a food. 

8 Feb (Sun)

The guys decide to install the water pump, for ease of living and of course so we can have our pool. This involves dredging a pool in which the pump can stand, which the macho ones gleefully do. They spend the morning up to their necks in the swamp hauling out handfuls of mud and emerge a few hours later filthy, ripped apart by the sword grass but in surprisingly good humour.

Pricka (The World’s Best Camp Hand) alerts us to the fact that our much-loved tortoises have escaped. Brad found what is possibly the world’s tiniest tortoise on the road to Maun so we gave her a happy, temporary home here. We built her a 1m x 1m wooden pen that we relocate daily so she could get fresh fodder and even found her a He to keep her company. Keita loved the tortoises and visited them every day for a kiss and a cuddle. She named them both Blah for reasons only known to herself.  

It seems we placed the square pen on uneven ground and there was a gap that they slowly excavated during the night and disappeared off into the wilds. We are bereft. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bush ablutions

Abluting in the bush is never a simple process, which of course is part of the joy of living here. Showering (optional on most days) involves heating water over a fire, carrying a bucket to a tree where a canvass bag is set up on a pulley system, filling the bag, raising it with the pulley (who needs gym) and enjoying the best shower in the world, often with elephants or giraffes in attendance Bathing is also possible, although one frequently spends most of the time beating off the mosquitos, so it is never as relaxing as it should be. For big people it is also generally not as private as it should be, so is seldom done.

Going to the loss is an experience and can often be the highlight of the day. Crew members have been known to meet lions, hippos, elephants, all manner of snakes and most often our resident “loo giraffe” who tends to hang out there. It can be a little disconcerting doing the deed while being peered at from the treetops.

Keita loves the whole process and has learnt to hang on tightly since coming alarmingly close to falling in on her first attempt.   

She finds the walk a little much though, particularly when wearing heels. This arrangement gives potty training a whole new dimension as getting there can take 10 minutes. 

7 Feb (Sat)

Returned to Moremi today after a fun 3 days of socializing. It took Rio a while to get used to being around kids again and he needed 2 hours to warm up and start to interact. In my over-analytical way I realize that this year will be a constant round of adapting for him. As he gets used to the solitude of the bush he is thrust into a mad social whirl of Maun, and as he starts getting used to this he is whisked away to the bush again. And, just as he starts coming to terms with this dual existence we will probably move elsewhere…. I hope it ultimately makes him stronger and doesn’t have any lasting negative implications.

The kids are getting used to the drive, or maybe Frannette and I are getting used to it and are wrangling them better, knowing which parts of the drive go quickly, which parts will be interesting and so on.

We saw 2 cobras between the vet fence and the gate. One at least 8 foot and the second one about 4 foot. We stopped the car about 2 metres from the smaller one as it was crossing the road and it looked at us and raised it’s hood briefly. It was on the side of the car where Rio and I were, and he was leaning out the back window in anticipation. As soon as the cobra stopped and looked threatening, instinct took over and I yelled at Rio to “get in the car quickly”. To his credit he acted like lightning and ducked down below the level of the window. A tad melodramatic but it did create much opportunity for Rio to regale us for the next hour about how he had to take evasive action from the vicious creature, and how he did so with the reflexes of a superhero.

Adventures are starting to become the norm on these drives and Frannette and I are starting to feel like Thelma and Louise. This time I elect the wrong route around an enormous puddle (all the time vaguely knowing that it could be a bad decision) and we get bogged down to the axles in thick mud. After years of living and working in the bush with Brad and having been stuck numerous times in every conceivable thing that can make a car stick, I know the drill. We leap out to go and find logs to place under the tyres to gain some traction and immediately get sucked knee deep into revolting mud. On pulling my foot out my Croc remains behind and it takes me 5 minutes just to extricate it from under all the goo. We tell Rio to stay put and to look after Keita (who is asleep in her baby chair) and head off into the bush to find logs. I look back to see little Rio, fingers clutched onto the rolled-down window, wide eyes peering out, and I realize what a big adventure it is for him. Luckily we find suitable logs close by and return within 5 minutes. We do what I have helped Brad do on numerous occasions (only this time with the added pressure of directing the operation) and we soon work ourselves free. The instant we are on solid ground I leap out to do a victory dance and I hear a small voice saying “I always knew you could do it Mom” and see Rio, grinning from ear to ear, clearly very relieved, and clearly having had massive doubts about my ability to do it at all. In the effort to get us unstuck I had largely forgotten about him sitting quietly (and I now realize, somewhat terrified) on the back seat. The relief and glee on his face probably matched my own. I had no desire to have Brad rescue us once again!  

In good spirits after that we chatted and sang for the remainder of the trip. We officially christened our trusty Prado “Lightning The Queen” courtesy of Rio and arrived in camp in the late afternoon.

As I was walking back from taking a load of bags from “Lightning The Queen” to the tent I saw a small brown snake slithering around the play tent and eventually vanish into the grass. Jason told me that earlier that day he had seen a black mamba in our marula tree in camp. It had gone into the hole where our resident mice live and had emerged with a mouse baby in its mouth.

Four snakes in one day. Hmmmm.

4 Feb (Wed)

We left for Maun unexpectedly today. Packed in a mad rush and headed out, such a mad rush in fact that I forgot to bring my cameras along. Brad was in the Cruiser and Frannette, me and the kids in the Prado. Was a huge storm on the horizon and we were all excited at the prospect of driving through it. The road was incredibly wet and we had to skirt puddles as big as swimming pools, and occasionally when there was no alternative, drive right through them. 

Brad was about 20 mins ahead of us when, looking back at something Rio was doing, I managed to veer fractionally off road around a corner and straight into the sharp roots of an upturned Mopane tree. The tyre punctured instantly and was totally deflated before we had even gone 2 metres further. Being as intrepid as we are, we were only slightly phased by this set-back. After all, we both know very well how to change a tyre and pride ourselves on being able to do so. Thank goddess Frannette knew where the jack was (as a result of her recently having to purchase one for the vehicle). I would have been completely stuffed had I been on my own ‘cos I would have been looking for a high-lift jack – the only jacks I thought one could use on a 4 x 4. As it turned out it was a hydraulic jack, a miniscule red thing with a tiny bar about the size of a Vienna sausage. Much to my mirth Frannette inserts this thing under the vehicle and proceeds to pump it all of 7 cm (the limits of its range of movement) up and down rapidly with her thumb and index finger. After 10 minutes of this she declares that it isn’t working, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. There must be another tool. We scrounge around under the potty and the dvd player and the stuffed monkey and gleefully find another jack, identical to the previous one, but apparently this one may have fluid in it. In the first drops of a raging thunderstorm, with lightning flashing alarming close to us we try again, but again no luck. 

After discussing the possibility of attempting to prop the vehicle up on a log and various other ridiculous options, we realise that we have to wait for a rescue. I estimate that at worst Brad would have continued the 30 minutes to the gate, waited for 30 minutes maximum before realizing that there must be a problem and would then come and look for us. In the meantime we play in the sand and the puddles with the kids. Keita has a blast, utterly unperturbed by out plight, her 2-year-old brain interpreting everything as fun and games. Rio, at 5 slightly more aware of the implications of being stuck in the bush with a flat tyre (and anyway, starting to develop a tendency towards being a tad neurotic) tries to have fun. 

Within 15 minutes Brad returns. He had gone as far as the thunderstorm and waited for us in the middle of is so we could all appreciate it together. Typically, after tightening the screw on the jack that regulates the pressure, it worked fine, and we had the tyre changed in 10 minutes and were on the road again, me furious that we hadn’t thought of doing that and weren’t able to accomplish the task on our own.


3 Feb (Tues)

We were all up at 5 am and with all the chatting about who was going to sleep in which bed, nobody managed to go back to sleep. Brad left in a huff, grumbling about the attitude of the kids, implying Rio, who was still needy this morning and wanting me to lie in his bed with him. For the past 3 nights I have been bed – hopping between Rio and Keita’s bed, hoping that they don’t wake simultaneously and both need me in their bed, as happened the night before. The offer to all sleep in the big bed was not acceptable apparently and both kids ended up screaming in their own beds with me somewhere in the middle, much to Brad’s amazement. He isn’t used to the vagaries of kids.

Rio eventually decided that he would like to go out filming with Brad, which we all thought was a fabulous idea and would give him much needed time away from Keita. He is starting to behave aggressively towards her and is much in need of his own space.

At 8.30 we got the call on the radio to come and meet Rio as the crew were going to carry on tracking the lions and it was beginning to get a bit boring for him. We met them with Rio in high spirits, feeling very important cos he is learning to communicate on the radio and he had hung out all morning with the guys.

We had a big storm which took us all by surprise. It bucketed down for about 20 minutes and had us all scurrying around trying to waterproof the place and the things. It was a good diversion in an otherwise non-eventful day. Frannette, the kids and I didn’t leave camp and by late afternoon Rio was fractious and irritable and whining about absolutely everything. He was clearly unable to assimilate the changes, adaptations and emotions and it all came to a head. He fell asleep in a sulk and Brad and I had a chat about how to help him come to terms with it all. My heart goes out to him. He has been in isolation for 2 weeks now which is a long time to not see a person his age. It feels like a lot longer since we left Jo’burg. Hard to believe we have only been here for a week. It feels like a month at least.

Frannette (the Stepford Person) is terrifyingly upbeat all the time while the rest of us fall apart all over the place. She consistently amazes me with her ability to be genuinely happy. She can cope with absolutely anything, including the camp management, the cooking and the kids, with a good attitude and a smile on her face. She is definitely not normal. Perhaps one day she will snap and start brandishing kitchen knives and things …

2 Feb (Mon)

Frannette emerges from her tent traumatized this morning. She swears she heard a buffalo being murdered during the night, but on investigation, there is no sign of a kill this morning, and in fact, no sign of the lions.

Sit at my desk wrapped like a mummy in kikois to stop the feeling of the flies crawling all over me. For some reason today we have been invaded by tiny, annoying, biting flies. We think the crew brought them back with them after having spent most of the morning watching a herd of buffalos. This is the worst aspect of trying to function in the bush. Sweaty, dusty and fly-ridden. This is more than my fragile psyche can handle and I spend the day in a foul mood.

Rio and Keita really struggle with the fact that mom is so close yet so unavailable. The way the camp is structured the office tent adjoins the kitchen tent, which is close to their play / classroom tent, so they can literally see me at all times. During 'school hours' which is somewhere between 8 am and 11 am, depending on how long Frannette manages to restrain them, I can get some work done. After that, they have free play time. This is when they are meant to find bugs, dig in the dirt, entertain each other and so on. Instead they take it in turns to visit my office. 

Keita has developed a dramatic slow-motion run, arms out, head back, like a death-scene from an Oliver Stone movie, which she does from the play tent to my office, all the while moaning mommmmmyyyyy and then flinging herself onto me. She perches on my lap, sucks her thumb for a while and then proceeds to touch everything on my desk despite my telling her not to, until I can't stand it anymore and toss her out. Rio then mooches in and stands at my side. If he doesn't get the requisite amount of attention immediately he licks my arm, from shoulder to elbow, which is guaranteed to get a response. Generally I shout at him and then evict him. This scenario plays out every 20 minutes or so, and usually I just give up trying to work and end up playing hide and seek or lions an buffalo (Rio's current favourite - he loves being the buffalo and Keita and I have to be the lions and eat him), all the while getting more and more hysterical about the work that is piling up. 

This is not a happy situation. We are well entrenched in the cycle of negative attention seeking behaviour, something I practically killed myself trying to avoid. I am assured by my friends who have tried working from home that there is no alternative. Kids struggle with the concept of mom being around but inaccessible. This doesn't do much to assuage my guilt though.  

1 Feb (Sun)

“Mom, its laying a baby” calls Rio gleefully, having spotted a hairy worm that had just shed it’s skin. It goes directly into the bucket for removal from camp along with a millipede that we found in the kids play tent. A hideous yellow-legged long thing that can give a particularly nasty bite.

Our day proceeds as normal until we hear the film crew arrive back at 7.30. They have found the lions hunting a herd of buffalo close by and have come to fetch us to watch the action. Everyone runs around organizing and packing as one must when game driving with young kids. It is no longer a simple matter of upping and going. 30 mins later I stumble to the car under a load of 2 camera bags, one all purpose bag (extra clothes, sunscreen etc), one nappy bag and one food and beverages bag, just in case we get 4 flat tyres and have to camp out for a week.

The kids are excited to be out and practice talking on the radio to a good-humoured Jason while we drive. This can provide them with hours of entertainment and the glee on Rio’s face when he actually gets a reply over the airwaves is fabulous to see. Keita uses the radio as a phone by holding it to her ear and pretending to chat.

The lions and buffalos only hold the attention of the kids for so long, then they start to become loud and we have to move the car away from the other game drives. We toss the kids into the open back of the cruiser and let them climb around, using the rails as a jungle gym. Eventually Frannette and I tire of seeing the animals as small specks in the distance and we head back home. 

30 Jan (Fri)

Thanks to Brad's diligence, the kids now have a jungle gym which they wasted no time getting familiar with. In the absence of a suitable tree I insisted on him building one. Being the A-type mom that I am I did not want my little savages  lacking in upper body strength or co-ordination. 

The office has instructed us, in no uncertain terms, to get it together and start filming some behind the scenes footage. I have been dreading this cos it means I have to pretend to be relatively together and sane and motherly and bush-goddess-like when actually I am a demented person. I wander around with a camera for a while, figuring it is better in my current state to be behind it rather than in front of it, but Keita seems a bit threatened by it and demands a hug every time she sees me wielding it.

A big storm blows over in the afternoon so we huddle in the tent watching DVD’s and I have a wonderful few hours with my book.

The kids are starting to settle in and the whining and niggling and clinging is diminishing. I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to see how this can be such a brilliant place to raise kids for a while.

However, I am also now starting to feel the familiar sloth of the bush, caused by the heat and the confinement, and am finding that all I want to do is sit around and eat. Will have to haul myself out of this state asap before it becomes too difficult to do so.

I am inspired to take photos and have done much of it today, so much so that Keita starts hiding her face and telling me “Mom, stop photing me”. I can’t resist. They are going to start thinking that I have a large black protuberabce from the end of my face. Brad spent so much time filming Rio during the first few weeks of his life that I remember the look of confusion on his Rio’s face when he saw his dad without a camera to his eye. 

29 Jan (Thurs)

We awoke this morning to a collapsed camp. Very heavy rain during the night completely devastated our main living area and the weight of the water bent the support poles beyond repair. Brad is already at work rebuilding a better version. The one good thing is that we get to use the twisted and bent poles for a jungle gym for the kids.

Today was also the beginning of Project Worm Eradication. Every worm we see gets scooped up into a jar and dumped elsewhere in the national park when the film crews do their daily sortie. So far we seem to have gathered hundreds, and they keep coming…

In the afternoon the whole tribe sets off for a swim and to film a link with Brad. This is the first time we have endeavored to work with the family along. To their credit they behave as well as any nearly 2 and nearly 5 year old can. Our subject is a beautiful, relaxed ele bull who stands in a floodplain eating the wildflowers that proliferate at this time of year. The kids are quiet and Keita is riveted by the sight of such a large animal so close to her. She is wide eyed and whispers in excitement to Frannette. They manage to keep still enough for Brad to shoot a superb clip with many close ups and focus pulls. The audio will be a bit dodgy though, especially when the ele starts waving his willy around. Rio can’t resist a big burst of laughter and there is much sniggering and pointing. Keita, who has learnt what a willy is from the impressive red and blue ones on the ververt monkeys in Natal / Umdloti is in awe. I don’t think she believes it is a willy. Clearly she thinks this is a 5-legged elephant.  She has all this stuff to sort out in her mind. 

28 Jan (Wed)

Our camp is infested by hairy worms. There has been a resident colony on the Marula tree in the centre of the camp but haven’t caused too much concern. Keita, however, finds them hard to resist. She has no sense of caution or self-preservation when it comes to animals of any kind and she seems to have an almost uncontrollable urge to hug everything. These worms are no different and despite our warnings to her she persists in holding them, hugging them and kissing them. Rio has had a rash from the moment he set foot in Moremi and it may be a reaction to the worms, although I recall seeing the rash in Maun before we left so I am not sure.

At about 4 o clock a persistent wailing from Keita brings all in camp to her side. It turns out she had found a large worm, let it walk on her tummy for a while, hugged it and kissed it, and now has tiny black hairs stuck all over her. These cause a terrible itching and burning and she is clearly suffering greatly. For some reason this had not happened with any of the previous worms she had held. I wash the affected bits with water but nothing will console her. I have never experienced a hairy worm itch before but those who have assure me that it isn’t exceedingly sore. I have heard that water is good to relieve the burn so we decide to take her to he crossing for a swim. It takes us about 30 minutes to mobilize the others in camp who all wish to go swimming, during which time Keita cries incessantly. Even when in the water – always her favourite thing – she still wails.

After the swim we go for a game drive and find 5 lionesses lying on some high ground. Apart from the 4 we saw on an anthill on the way in to camp on Day 1 these are the first that Keita has consciously seen. She has seen a lion before on a previous trip here but was too young to remember or to register. On the way in her inexperienced eyes couldn’t make them out in the grass and even though we tried for 10 mins, she missed them completely. She was fascinated by these ones. They were very relaxed to our presence despite the fact that Brad, the kids and I were perched very conspicuously on the roof. The lionesses did pay attention to us when Keita whined a bit ‘cos we wouldn’t let her off the car to “hug the kitty”.  A young animal never fails to get their attention, particularly a young animal in distress. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

27 Jan (Tues)

Today is the first day I am emotionally almost ready to get in touch with the world and start communicating again. I have managed to put the pleading and whining into the background and am determined to touch base with the office and get back into things.

 Unfortunately it turns into a disaster, rather in keeping with the way my year has been going so far. In an effort to be efficient and functional I grab the first opportunity to connect with the real world and the people from my (previously) real life and frantically start replying to the 207 mails in my inbox. In my frenzy I even reply to those not addressed to me personally but are generic communication sent via the office management tool. For some reason, and distinctly uncharacteristically, I am compelled to rant on about my woes to the head of the new media department. It is only when I see a skype message from my sister in London a few hours later which reads “Jesus Andy - are you joking? check when you send email whether it's from basecamp or own email - or did you mean to send Brian your news via the whole company as a very cryptic joke? “ And 2 minutes later a message from the production manager “Hello Andy, are you on the internet at all? If so PLEASE DISCONNECT immediately as it's affecting speeds from Bots crew # 2”

So much for trying to get back into things… I sheepishly shut down my computer, vowing not to re-emerge (in the ether) for at least another 4 days.

I am finding it very difficult (quite obviously) to get my brain going again and to think of anything other than my Rio’s angst and suffering, at least 50% of which is projected onto him by my own neuroses.

The kids largely have to entertain themselves within the confines of the electric fence (which is not on during the day but nevertheless creates a suitable boundary). They are instructed to not venture outside the fence and Rio in particular, who has the typical energy of a nearly-five-year-old, is used to school and activities and much action is clearly finding it a little dull. Even his much loved superhero’s don’t seem to hold the same appeal. (This is probably a good thing) .

Up until now my focus has been more on being able to locate toothbrushes and underwear so wildlife hasn’t really been much in my mind / thoughts. Today I was reminded of the beautiful place we were in when a breeding herd of elephants made their way leisurely past our camp. We all watched them from the anthill. Rio, true to form, aimed an imaginary gun at them, which sends shivers down my spine. How is it that a mother who is the ultimate pacifist, anti-gun person on the planet gets a son who only wants to kill, murder and maim?

Brads building continues and he manages to construct a wash station for me outside my tent (what luxury) as well as a table for the main area so now we can eat without having to sit on the floor.

Frannette and I take the kids for a swim in the swimming hole but both kids so fractious that I am convinced we will have all the predators in the area gathering around to see what the noise is about. We limit the swim to a very fast bath and head back.

26 Jan (Mon)

We spend the day settling in and unpacking all the crap we carry around with us for some reason. I had every intention of not bringing two previous lives worth of Stuff to Moremi but it seems I have failed dismally.  We have an alarming amount of bags and boxes, and living in a tent, very little space to put it all. I have hauled out about one quarter of what is there and the rest will remain in the boxes to be covered with colourful kikois and used as furniture until we forget about the things inside or it gets eaten by termites, which ever happens first.

 Part of the Greater Plan is to move towards a less consumerist existence here. The first step would be to convince Rio that he doesn't need 16 power rangers and the whole collection of ninja turtles. So far he isn't convinced. It has been quite a change for the kiddies. Keet is fine, apart from looking like a wild bush child (sores, mozzie bites and massive injuries on her face from a fall), but Rio is a little depressed and high maintenance. He bursts into tears every now and then and lies around humming which breaks my heart, but soon he should forget that he used to play and laugh with friends and get on with playing all by himself within the 17 square metres we have allocated to him. It includes an anthill so he shouldn't really have anything to complain about.

 We spend the entire day attending to making camp comfortable for us and the kids. Brad has made a very valiant attempt to do this so far but has underestimated the extent of our needs. He has a long to do list, which to his credit he tackles with much energy and enthusiasm, immediately launching into the building of a lamu bed for day sleeps and a smoothed-out, shade-clothed central area where the kids can hang out.

In the late afternoon Brad takes us to the crossing where we can all swim. The kids love it and for the first time in many days have radiant smiles on their little faces. Rio, uncharacteristically, dives right in and plays crocodile. 

25 Jan (Sun)

We have finally arrived in Moremi after one hell of a time. We spent a week in Maun while Brad rebuilt the filming truck (literally from scratch). It was a monumental task and he worked 12 hours a day for 8 days. On Sunday, with work schedules that needed to be adhered to, we had to leave. We began the exodus at 12.30 pm, leaving us ample time to do a leisurely drive in with the kids and still arrive before it was dark. Brad stayed working on his vehicle up until the very last second and only left Maun at about 6 pm.

 The drive in was horrible. Keita screamed for 2 hours solid, probably because of the heat and the hellishness of the conditions. We all arrived exhausted and drained. The camp consists of an office tent, a kitchen tent, a wash-up station and various living tents. There have been some improvements since we were here last (spent a month here in June 08), notably our tent is now a large Meru as opposed to the small Meru, which is a good thing. We need all the space we can get.

 The kids run around shrieking and being dervishes and generally acting like kids do when they have been subjected to weeks of upheaval and change. It has been a fraught time and we are all emotionally raw and frazzled. That evening, I stand Rio in a tub of warm water outside the tent, to attempt to rinse the sand and mud off him before going to bed, I hear him making an odd noise, and wonder if something is caught in his throat. All of a sudden he starts sobbing and howling, a noise I have never heard from him, or any other child, before, and I realize the extent of the stress he is feeling and the adjustment he must make. That moment will remain with me as one of the most heartbreaking ever. He was trying to be very brave and suppressed it for as long as possible for a 4 year old, but it all came out eventually.

That night, lying on the floor on a single bed-roll, squished between Rio and Keita, I hear the familiar sound of lions calling to each other, and, despite everything, it feels good to be back in the bush again.


Brief history of us

Herewith a (very brief) bit of context to this blog:

On finding ourselves pregnant, my husband (cameraperson Brad Bestelink) and I vowed that it would have precisely no impact on our perfect lifestyle. We filmed wildlife in the wild places in Okavango Delta, Botswana, living the life that others only dreamed about. The decision to have kids was not taken lightly, and eventually after much angst and gnashing of teeth, I capitulated based solely on the fact that I didn't want to regret not having had kids once it was too late. I saw out my pregnancy in Botswana, bouncing around in the filming vehicle, work as usual, pretending not to be pregnant. Brad and I would lie on the roof of our filming vehicle at sunset discussing how we would simply strap a baby chair between our seats in the filming vehicle and nothing would change. Needless to say, we were wrong. 

The arrival of Rio upheaved everything. I was immediately flung into that weird ‘mother’ space of insecurity, doubt, neurosis, sleeplessness and general hysteria. The idea of taking my tiny baby to the wilds of Botswana was not one I relished and I clung with both hands to my support system – mother, friends (who for the most part had proceeded down this path prior to me), paediatrician and many cuppaccinos, all of which were in Johannesburg. Although based in Johannesburg, and then Durban, we spent about 6 months of his first 5 years in Botswana. Keita was born 3 years after Rio and just before she turned 2, at the beginning of 2009, I was ready to leave the relative comforts of city life and head for Moremi Game Reserve, with Frannette (aka Mom Too) in tow. She is my au pair, PA, brain, moral supporter, finder-of-all-things, and all together ridiculously-happy-person, without whom my life would be much diminished. 

This blog was created to deal with the endless requests by people to “tell me what you are doing out there” and “what is life like out there” and “how do you cope with small kids out there”. Also it helps keep me sane (sort of).