21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors

a few pointers on writing. insightful

Thought Catalog

A lot of people think they can write or paint or draw or sing or make movies or what-have-you, but having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.

Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more. Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf upon submitting Lolita, which would later go on to sell fifty million copies. Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style. Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way earned him a sprawling rejection letter regarding the reasons he should simply give up writing all together. Tim Burton’s first illustrated book, The Giant Zlig, got the thumbs down from Walt Disney Productions, and even Jack Kerouac’s perennial On the Road received a particularly blunt…

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Botswana – Africa’s rising force in the Sprints and Middle Distances

Making of Champions

In times past, countries from the southern part of the African continent were not regarded as good producers of the world’s best runners, but recently, Botswana, which was once considered a minnow in Africa and the world athletics stage, is proving that innate talent can be found in any part of the world irrespective of the geographical location.

Take for instance the emergence of Nijel Amos who came into global recognition after winning the Bronze medal at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games which was held at the Isle of Man. A breakout 2012 season as an 18yr old saw him become champion at the 2012 World Junior Athletics Championships in Spain, finishing in a new Championship Record (CR) of 1:43.79s.

Few months later at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Amos won a Silver medal, which turned out to be Botswana’s FIRST EVER Olympic medal! His time of 1:41.73s established a…

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Listening to the silence

Nature illuminates the path and speaks to the soul

He stood on the porch of the camp lounge overlooking the Moporota lagoon drink in hand, broad-brimmed Tilley hat slung low over the eyes and hand over the cap just to make sure. His spirit was still heavy, but not quite as heavy as it had been earlier that day. Remembering the events of the day, Modise was overcome with emotion at how the day had unfolded. The sun was low on the horizon- just above the tree line. The temperature had dropped from the sweltering brain-numbing heat of the afternoon to something slightly bearable. The mosquitoes were out in full force. They buzzed and whined around his ears. They landed on his ankles. He swore they had sucked at least a litre of his blood in the short time he had been standing there. He went over to the counter to get the repellent and sprayed it all over himself. Gradually the golden glow and the mystical warmth of the setting sun seemed to seep into his core. The orange orb of fire was bigger than he had ever seen before. A flock of cattle egrets flew over the setting sun and disappeared right through it. He remembered that as a kid he was told it was a good omen. And he could use one. In fact, he could use as many good omens as nature would be generous to spare. The setting sun, reflected in the water- the orange interspersed with the dark green of the reeds and lily pads, the cichlid fish dancing in the still lake surface conjured dreamy images of him as a young boy. Almost romantic. It reminded him of his grandfather who had the peculiar habit, of watching sunsets. Most people from his village didn’t watch sunsets. But his grandfather did. And he would always drag the young Modise on his sunset forays. Modise believed he got his love for the outdoors from the old man. ‘The sunset may be the end of a day’, he would say. ‘But it is also the ancestors’ promise for a brand new day. It is as much a beginning as it is an end. It is a chance to rethink your day, your work and your life. To self correct and create yourself anew. In every end is an opportunity for a new beginning.’ This statement had never been truer, or held more significance for Modise than it did that day.

In the sunset is a solemn promise
an end, but also a rebirth
a perfect dream deferred
the dusk a swelling dark
but the swirling dawn lights up the dark

And we all catch a glimpse
of the illusive moment
That heals all hurts
Rights all wrongs
In the last rays
Of a setting sun

An African fish eagle shrieked in the distance. Its mate answered in duet, and something within him tugged. How ironic was it, he thought, that a bird would have a mate to toss duets back and forth with in the fading light of the day. While he had no one to talk to?

He felt a sharp sting on his shoulder. He instinctively slapped. He missed. The mosquitoes in this place would be the death of him. He swore under his breath. The safari guides at Moporota lodge liked to joke that the mosquitoes licked the repellent away. Then they stung. Slowly he made his way to where the rest of the group was. With a reluctant cheer he asked, ‘how’s everyone doing? Whose glass may I refresh please?’

He felt lonely. As the dusk deepened, and the crickets and painted reed frogs filled the air with a symphonic cry for sex, he was reassured that coming to this place was the best thing he had done in years. He had trained as a professional safari guide soon after graduating with an environmental science degree. After six years of safari sundowners and occasionally walking into potentially dangerous game he decided he wanted change. He went back to Gaborone, got a master’s degree in environmental management and started a small consulting firm. He did not regret moving back to the city, but he wished he hadn’t completely neglected this side of who he was. He thought he might have been unfaithful to his authentic self. That gentle voice within all of us, that we often ignore. There is duplicity and lack of core values in a life driven by ambitious greed and gain. That was one of his grandfather’s favourite expressions. He wasn’t led by greed he thought. But he had certainly traded his core self for something less than what he thought he was capable of. And for that he was not proud.

Looking at the roseate coloured sky, and the moon taking centre stage, he determined it was probably a day before full moon. He chided himself for not looking that up earlier. The almost perfectly shaped moon was visible even before the sun had totally dipped beyond the western horizon. The surreal landscape was bathed in glorious colour and ethereal light. The palm fronds made soothing sounds as they swayed in the breeze. Mostly like rainfall, but on occasion like ocean waves crashing against the shore. Instinctively he knew he was going to sleep very well. A smile played tentatively around his lips. Wasn’t if funny he thought, that the Tswana word for moon, month and menses were just one word? It was weird, but understandable. He saw how periodicity of the moon, and the cyclic nature of a woman’s natural flow could be used to measure time. At that time, when the moon was full it was referred to as the lady with red teeth. And kids were told not to look at it as they would wet their beds. He shuddered at the picture of the lady with blood dripping from her teeth. He had grown with such terrifying stories. The best thing was he had loved them. All of them. He longed for those moments where him and his brother would sit by their grandmother’s side to listen to her stories. A celebrated safari guide had once told him that early music and dance may have evolved from studying any intervallic natural phenomenon. It is was as though a peephole into his past had been opened. He wondered what the earliest songs were like- ancient, molten and unadulterated. He imagined something heroic and primeval in the songs. A deep communion with nature. Entwined in the playful untrained grace there would be, he thought, a periodic pulse, akin to the bimanual drumming of the great apes. Or maybe a woodpecker signalling its mate, or protecting a territory.

He could feel himself connecting with nature and losing some of the heaviness in his heart. By all measures it had been a long day.

‘Shall we move to the fire?’One of the waiters suggested, snapping him out of his reverie.

Modise called out to his guests, a young couple from Los Angeles. It was going to be a great safari he knew. Already they had spent the most amazing time on their maiden game drive. They had shown him a great time. Much greater than he remembered in a long while. And nature had given an unforgettable show too. Even in his heyday nothing made his heart swell with pride more than ‘safari virgins’ who had just caught the African bug. He loved seeing the wonder in their eyes, because it was with that same wonder he approached every trip.

‘What’s that star?’ Mark asked. ‘It is not a star, but the planet Venus. Often it is the brightest natural object in the sky after the moon. And in places like the Makgadikgadi pans, where you are going next it can be so bright as to cast a shadow.’ Modise was amazed at how easily the answers came. And even in the semi-darkness he could see the twinkle in Mark’s eye. Mark wrapped his arm around Pam and squeezed her lightly. They moved closer to the fire.

‘And the noise?,’ Pam asked.

‘Frogs,’ said Modise. ‘The ones that sound like wind chimes are painted reed frogs, not much larger than your thumb nail. Males make the sound to attract mating partners. The males establish territories that they defend aggressively against competing males. Sound is made by inflating the vocal sac which amplifies the sound. Males may call together in choruses because calling is energetically taxing. Studies suggest that the females mate more with males that vocalise loudly, sound slightly different or are isolated from neighbouring frogs. I guess even for frogs, a sense of mystery and novelty is considered a chick magnet! So right now, you could say the Okavango air is thick with frenzied frog flirting and sexual activity. The deeper sounding ones are bull frogs. There’s a few tremolo sound frogs there too’.

Modise stared into the red ambers of the fire and considered his day. Being here in the middle of the pristine and award winning Okavango Delta filled him with a serene peace unlike any he had ever experienced. He was in place where memory and reality seamlessly merged to a meditative tranquillity. Already he felt confident that it was all coming together, that the stray bits and pieces of his life were being tightened. He saw nature as something within him, and him within it. Not removed- it’s patterns engraved on his psyche, his soul and his mortal self. It was an enlightening realisation, one that helped him deal with his state. It was still an uncomfortable emotional journey to make, into the events that led him back there. As he thought about how his day started and how it looked like it was going to end, the two were as far removed as night and day. He was reminded of the Setswana expression that stated the greater the hurt, the louder the laughter. It made sense. He was enveloped in a bubble of vulnerable joy. He wanted to hold on to it, savour it, treasure it, for he knew how easy it was to lose. He wondered how long he had been headed in this direction without knowing. Was it one decision in one unguarded moment that determined the outcome- or had it been a series of events, unbeknown to him that culminated in the dreadful result. He knew that sooner or later he would have to confront these questions. Maybe sooner, rather than later.

There was a companionable silence between them as they stared mesmerised into the dancing flames and red ambers. The magic of the fire. People here liked to refer to it as bush television. He understood why. He could look at it forever. Then Pam cleared her throat, and let out a gentle sigh.

‘What is it darling’, Mark asked gently.

‘These coals. When I was a kid, my dad would take me and my brother to our lakeside cabin in the mountains. We would build a fire like this. And roast marshmallows. Looking into the coals now, I can almost smell the caramelised candy and the wood smoke in my clothes.’

‘Wow, that’s so cool, Modise said.’ Even with his richly imaginative mind, he couldn’t quite grasp the idea of roasting sweets. As though Mark was reading his mind, he asked him ‘have you ever roasted marshmallows Modise?’

‘No, never. I’ve roasted quite a bit of stuff- melon seeds, peanuts, fresh cobs of maize, meat- but not marshmallows’ he said.

‘What we did by the fireside, when I was a kid, was tell stories. These were stories passed to us by our elders, or just simple stories to catch up, to update each other on how our respective days had passed. Sometimes we made them up. And the fireside storytelling tradition is a huge part of African culture, and the safari experience too’, he added.

‘Tell us a story then- about the best thing you’ve ever seen or experienced as a guide,’ Mark challenged.

Modise poked the fire and sent a trail of sparks into the sky. He moved the wood and arranged it into a pyramid at the same time blowing into the fire. He puffed his cheeks, filled them with air like a smelter’s bellows. The fire cackled into life, burned brighter and smokeless and air was thick with its warmth. Modise stood up and passed the basket of savoury mushroom samoosas and filled their glasses with the refreshingly cold chardonnay. He went back to his seat and stared into the filling dusk.

‘I’m not sure if this was the best, but it is certainly the one that made the most permanent impression one my mind. It’s a story of life, and death. Of strength, frailty and faith. Of adventure and it starts not very far from here, to the west. I was on a nature walk with San-Bushman trackers.

‘At 40 ºC in the flimsy shade it was one of the hottest afternoons in this part of the world. Heat waves emanated in a convectional kaleidoscope from the sun-baked sand of the Kalahari and painted watery mirages in the distance. The earth took on an unreal feeling and the expression ‘the middle of nowhere’ assumed a personality and a deeper meaning. However, my Ju/hwasi friends and companions seemed oblivious of this and walked on unperturbed. Single file we walked three figures in an unforgiving landscape of sun, sand, thirst and more sand.

We stopped under a lone and gnarled camel thorn acacia tree just before sunset. This tree had the timeless aspect of all lone and gnarled trees of the Kalahari. The smooth trunk, cropped foliage and the mixture of animal droppings in the shade, all attested to the tree’s rich history. If it could talk, that tree would tell many tales of what animals had rested, fought or mated in its shade. It would tells tales of the number of ticks it had dislodged from the coats of many weary animals. But it stood proud and stoic as a gentle breeze whispered through its sparse leaves. Nxhu, one of the trackers, fished out fire-making sticks from his hunting bag, Xashe collected animal dung for tinder while I harvested colourful jewel beetles from the acacia for our dinner. Nxhu slotted the softwood end of the male stick into one of the holes of the female stick and vigorously twirled the male stick. We took turns to sustain friction. Within a short while thin wisps of smoke reluctantly curled and danced in the fading sunlight. Nxhu took a potpourri of herbs from his bag and stuffed them into a smoking pipe made from steenbok shin bone. When the orange ball of the new full moon peeped over the horizon to bathe the red sand in soft suffused light, it found us through a cloud of Nxhu’s smoke.’

Modise paused to check whether his guests needed anything else. But they were hungry to hear more of this fascinating story. He continued.

‘We sat in the thick tangible silence of weary limbs and easy companionship. On the dying embers a few jewel beetles hissed and popped quietly, and their aroma perfumed the desert air. In the distance a black-backed jackal howled, and the liquid call of a fiery necked nightjar seemed to vaporize and diffuse through an otherwise still night. Suddenly in the inchoate twilight there was a delightful hint of music. It was like the faint susurration of the breeze, a memory or even a private thought. But I felt it in the charged particles of the air that made my hair to stand on end. Goose flesh formed on my arms. It was the purest, eeriest and the most haunting sound ever made by a human. It was Nxhu, who with bright-eyed intensity of a mischievous child was blowing on the sinewy part of the hunting bow and simultaneously taping it with a porcupine quill. Slowly the dulcet notes of this contraption enveloped and completely overwhelmed us, only to wane into something mirthful and poignant: like a celebration of life and a subtle reminder of death. Which in fact it was’.

‘What was it?’ Pam asked captivated by this story.

‘The San are some of the most knowledgeable naturalists I’ve ever met. They are intimately in tune with the environment and use it for inspiration to find meaning in their lives. In this instance Nxhu was playing a song inspired by migrating termites which emerge after heavy rains. The song enacted the nuptial or wedding flight of termite alates as they emerged from the wet ground during the rainy season. Thin membranous wings catching the late afternoon light, these insects brave the elements to colonise a perilous new world. With the queen giving off small measures of pheromones, the drone follows her to an unknown destiny, spurred on by visions of connubial bliss and an ecstatic ever after. While Nxhu was giving this impromptu and virtuosic performance, I was flirting with the romantic notion of this incredible adventure, engineered into the insects’ destiny by nature. In this journey fraught with mortal danger and uncertainty there was a hope for something more, something new, something better. All my life this has been one of the most inspirational stories of hope and survival. It reminds me over and over again that it is possible to start all over again. That even though the future is never assured, it is worth searching for, finding and preserving.’

Pam and Mark were quiet for a while. This was a powerful story. They could imagine the fragile strength of the insects as they took on a journey into the unknown wilderness. In many ways the story resonated with them and what they hoped to achieve in their lives. The termite queen who flies off with a drone to start a new colony represents romantic love. Leaving the safety of an established colony and doing something you believe in even when the odds seemed stacked sky high against you is a measure of faith. They saw how this story could have made an indelible mark on anyone’s mind, for it was an unforgettable story. But it was also Modise’s own personal story. About trusting to an unknown future and believing that all will turn out just fine.

After a while Pam said ‘that’s an incredible story. Will we meet your San friends before the end of our trip?’ Modise answered in the affirmative.

‘We will do an interpretative nature walk with the Bushman before you go. Perhaps you too will go home with an unforgettable story. That’s the thing about Africa, she never lets anyone go untouched. That is probably true for any relaxing wilderness area. Nature teaches contemplation.’

By now the moon was high and bright, and most of the stars, except the really bright, had faded away. Across the Moporota lagoon a few dark forms slowly made their way through the marsh. They were hippos coming out of the water like ghosts, for their nightly forage. Their sounds as they sloshed though the water, grunting and wheezing added to the mystique of the night. Thousands upon thousands of little flakes of golden dust danced in the air, lighting it up in wonder.

‘What are those?’ asked Mark. ‘Fireflies,’ Pam answered her husband.

‘You know me darling, I am a town boy through and through. I’ve never seen this before. This is so amazing. How do they produce the light?’

‘The light,’ said Modise, ‘is a result of a complex enzymatic reaction. Adult flies use it to attract mates by producing species specific light pulses. You can think of this bioluminescence as a fancy way of flirting’.

‘Interestingly, some insects mimic the light pulses to seduce, lure and trap unsuspecting fireflies to prey on them. The larvae on the other hand, called glow worms, use it to scare away would be predators. Even crazier, some insects use luminescence to lure their prey. What this says about life is that it is important to be aware of one’s environment, carryout some due diligence before jumping into what looks like an amazing opportunity only to be trapped and eaten.’

They laughed. Then an uneasy silence filled the air again as they all pondered the gravity of this statement.

‘Of course it is not so simplistic. But still, a cost benefit analysis is important to inform any major decision. This is relevant in life and business. And often when the possible rewards outweigh the perceived risks, the project is a go. It is unsurprising, therefore that when one of life’s greatest motivators, sex, is involved animals behaving primal will be swayed by the potential reward and not the possible risk. Often with dire consequences.

‘So this means we should also not be too risk averse, right?’ Asked Mark. ‘Because if we are it may prevent us from realising our true and greatest potential. There must be a healthy mix of heart and head when charting one’s life course.’

‘Of course,’ Pam answered.

Deep in his senses Modise felt peace and a sense of belonging exceptional and quite possibly out of this world. He experienced an inexplicable meditative quietude that washed over him and engulfed him. Much had happened to disrupt his thoughts and sense of being in the last few hours. His newfound sense of repose was therefore unusual. He felt that he too was part of a greater creation and that he had some part, no matter how insignificant, to play in it. He felt a tangible inner peace, increased awareness of himself and his environment and above all, better control of his emotions. He felt that his previous reflective self consciousness and anxiety had miraculously seeped away to a profound peace and objectivity. He realised that things weren’t quite as bad as they had appeared. A heavy cloud in his mind lifted to reveal something more hopeful and responsive. There was hope yet, he thought.

A waiter started beating the large drum in the lounge. Drum beating had always been one of the sounds Pam and Mark associated with Africa. There was an easy rhythm in the beat that they started clapping and dancing to. There was a something profound and mysterious in the sound that reverberate in the gut. It was as though the drum was speaking to them in some mystical language that only they could understand. Faster and faster the drum rolled, its sound carrying into the late evening air. Slowly it began to fade to a quiet whisper. Then the waiter announced ‘Ladies and gentleman, dinner is served.’ They reluctantly stood and made their way to the dinner table, with Modise in the rear.

Four lessons learnt from an afternoon watching baboons

BAKANG BALOI

1. In life, as in business, have an early warning system and pay attention to the warnings
2. Infuse your life with passionate play. It makes one emotionally available and improves social competence
3. If you have a product or service market it, build some following around it
4. Always weigh the costs of engaging in an activity and consider the inherent risks involved

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A deep grunt, followed by an almighty barking roar shattered the silence. A few seconds later a troop of chacma baboons crossed the road single file, with a big male on tow. There were several females with young riding jockey style on their backs. For a brief moment the baboons looked warily in the direction of the vehicle, but after satisfying themselves that there was no danger posed, they continued with their business. Their business entailed eating grass seeds and roots and looking for insects and…

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Four lessons learnt from an afternoon watching baboons

1. In life, as in business, have an early warning system and pay attention to the warnings
2. Infuse your life with passionate play. It makes one emotionally available and improves social competence
3. If you have a product or service market it, build some following around it
4. Always weigh the costs of engaging in an activity and consider the inherent risks involved

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A deep grunt, followed by an almighty barking roar shattered the silence. A few seconds later a troop of chacma baboons crossed the road single file, with a big male on tow. There were several females with young riding jockey style on their backs. For a brief moment the baboons looked warily in the direction of the vehicle, but after satisfying themselves that there was no danger posed, they continued with their business. Their business entailed eating grass seeds and roots and looking for insects and other arthropods. Even though most of the troop were foraging there were a few on treetops and other vantage points playing sentinel. Their role was to look for any signs of danger and warn the troop by means of an ‘alarm call.’ Modise explained that the alarm calls were specific to the type and degree of threat. For example, an alarm call for lions was a deep two phase bark, often followed by a frenzied clamouring as the rest of the troop looked for escape routes up the nearest trees. A group of sub-adult males ran around in playful glee to the amusement of the tourists. Play, Modise explained, was an essential part of juvenile development and was involved in fashioning adult behaviour. Playing is known to affect an individual’s ability to regulate emotional responses and therefore increase social competence and adaptability.

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Pam noticed that there were a few baboons with prominent bright red swelling around their posteriors. Having never seen this before, she was alarmed and asked what disease the baboons might be suffering from. It quickly became apparent that Mark’s had retained much of the background reading before the safari. He explained that it showed that they were sexually mature and receptive females. Pam thought it was bizarre to have to display sexual readiness like that. Modise tried to explain the biological basis for this observation. Females in oestrus, he said, had these elaborate sexual display to entice males who may be choosy when it comes to mate selection. The sexual swellings likely increased competitions among males such that the strongest males mated thereby giving healthy offspring who were likely to survive the harsh environment. In addition, males used the size of the swelling to gauge the females’ readiness, and therefore the effort that they should invest in the courting and mating. For males mating carried significant risks brought about by aggressive competition and loss of feeding time.
So, the bigger the swellings, the more desirable she is?, asked a dumbfounded Pam. Absolutely, said Modise. And the males will contest aggressively for mating rights. But I suggest we look at it beyond the grotesque anogenital swellings. Let us look at it from a business or relationship perspective. This is advertising like any other. If one has a product, an invention, or service to offer one has to market it, build a hype around and get people’s attention. This is precisely what the baboons are doing. And if we assume this approach they don’t look so ridiculous anymore. Do they? Mark and Pam agreed they could see more in this than just a readiness to mate.

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Learning about waiting and procrastination from predators

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Waiting, I think, is like that vulnerable state between heartbeats. The next one is not necessarily assured. In that brief moment one is weak, defenseless and exposed to the whims of an unknown fate. But we still wait. There’s still rhythm between one heartbeat and another. And we act like we know the outcome of that momentary pause in our physiological machinery. Because there is a defined rhythm and periodicity to the heartbeat, we don’t feel a sense of unease between heartbeats- we just take them as they are given.
A more trying type of waiting is that alluring lull between decisions. It always fills me with an indefinable angst, a sense of dread even. And that anxiety makes me hesitant to make my move to commit to one path over the other. By the time I finally wake up to the situation valuable time is lost, and the decision does not have the same impact it would have, had I acted swiftly. I procrastinate, yet I hate it. I hate the wait between idea, commitment and action. But I still do it. In my mind I’d like to believe I’m doing some necessary due diligence. But half the time I doubt it. Honestly, I’m really just waiting and chewing my nails.
One of the lessons I tried to internalize when I was a safari guide was; how do predators know the exact moment to pounce on their prey? What magical time is the right time? After watching many hunting attempts I think they too do not really know. Like me, they are informed by past event, experiences, successes and failures. In this regard I have witnessed their frustration when they attempt the hunt too early and spook their quarry, or when they leave it too late and lose the element of surprise. I wouldn’t want to anthropomorphise, but do they, like me, sometimes just over think the hunt- and its outcome? And therefore fail to move? Are they ever trapped in the fear of failure, or is their instinct too powerful for that?
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It is easy being herbivorous; an impala, or zebra, or hippo- or even elephant. The plants do not run away. You just walk up to one and start chewing away. No calculation of the opportunity presented, the stalking, the stealth; the investment- and the crushing disappointment. I’ve seen a whole pride of lions go almost two weeks without a kill, at least not one large enough for them all. And throughout the time we followed them, they made attempt after attempt at hunting. Each time I swear I could see the disappointment in their eyes as they regrouped and started anew. Of course, they did not give up, the stakes were high. But then the stakes are always high when you’re a predator. If it’s any comfort, in the morning of the twelfth day, they brought down a full grown male giraffe, we watched it’s last breath steaming in the cold July air and its eyes cloud in an unseeing stare. But all the time, all I could think was- where do they get the strength to go on? How do they pull of this amazing feat of inner strength. Every day I try to tap into that reserve of strength. To have a go at it again. Just one more time. And not to leave it too long

As we start the week

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Why nature is important- 5 points to ponder

•In the silence, Nature speaks to the soul
• Nature allows us to retell stories that matter, to contemplate, introspect
• Nature reflects the best parts of who we are and reveals them to us
• To the dull mind all nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
• A sunset is Nature’s solemn promise for a new day, and a chance to start afresh (Baloi family wisdom)

 

Makgadikgadi Magic

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A northern black koorhan shatters the late afternoon stillness with a loud harsh squawk. It takes to flight in a staccato cluck-cluck sound, like a helicopter. In the distance a few zebras dot the horizon. The salty dust stings the nose. An uncommon quiet, serene, molten and almost transcendental envelopes my senses. ‘Welcome to Jack’s Camp!’ a cheerful voice disrupts the reverie.
The camp is on the edge of Ntwetwe pan. One of the two main pans that make up the Makgadikgadi ecological system. To the south is Sua pan. The olive green tents are cryptically located on a grass island amidst Commiphora trees and Hyphaene palms. Super Sande, our guide, escorts us to the main area for refreshments and a briefing on camp and general wilderness etiquette.
Instantly, Jack’s camp feels like an authentic, quintessential safari camp of the early explorers. Wildebeest skulls stare at us from the top of the large tent. Inside the main area glass cabinets house an impressive library on natural history. Other cabinets contain late stone age hand axes, arrow points, stuffed animals and fossilized skeletons. It is as though one has stepped into a long bygone era. ‘Slice of lemon with your coke, Bk?’ asks Tebogo, our host as he takes care of the necessary indemnity forms. ‘You’ve just signed your lives away’ he says in mock alarm.
Our tent is roomy and stylish with burnt orange fabric lining. On the porch overlooking the empty expanse of the pans is a leather bound recliner. I make a mental note to use it for sunset watching. The interior, replete with four poster beds, Persian rugs and period furniture, is fit for royalty. There are en-suite and outdoor shower facilities. But I think the most quaint facility is the loo which has been shaped into a regal throne. There is something of old school charm and worldly luxury in the cosmetics provided. With labels such as ‘Undergarment Purification Solution, Cleansing Solution and Moisturising Liniment’ the cosmetics make me feel like a star in a Victorian movie. I am enthralled.

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It is a few days before full moon. The moon is visible even before the sun dips beyond the western horizon. The surreal landscape is bathed in glorious colour and ethereal light. The palm fronds make soothing sounds as they sway in the breeze. Mostly like rainfall, but on occasion like ocean waves crashing against the shore. Instinctively I know I am going to sleep very well.
The day’s excitement lulls me into a deep dreamless sleep that is broken at the crack of dawn by a loud ‘Koo-ko! This is your wake up call. We bring you tea and biscuits!’ The sugar from the homemade biscuits, and the caffeine jolt my body into activity. The sky is without a cloud, and resplendent in soft roseate and pastel blue colours. Like an artist’s palette. With the unbridled excitement of a five year old, I rush out of the tent- I am ready.
Super has packed a picnic and plans to take us into the Makgadikgadi National Park. We enter through the Xirexara gate. Instead of the usual wardens and game scouts the two men near the gate are clearly military types. The one on the quad bike is in military fatigues and a grey T-shirt. The other one, in civilian clothing, leans against the wall cleaning his rifle. Their eyes bore briefly into the safari vehicle, missing nothing. Finding nothing to excite their suspicion, they ignore us and we drive through. The flow of the Boteti in recent years has sparked an increase in observed and potential poaching, Super explains. As a result there is active anti-poaching activity in the whole of the Makgadikgadi. One wonders if there is a subtle, less intrusive way of patrolling. Never, mind we see the dust of hundreds of zebras in the distance. Super’s voice fades in the breeze as he explains the finer ecological points of the Makgadikgadi.
There are large herds of zebras and some wildebeest. Smaller mammals like impala, cape hares, bat-eared foxes, ground squirrels and black-backed jackals are also seen on the drive. Tawny eagles, secretary birds, harrier hawks, white backed vultures and lappet-faced vultures are some of the birds of prey we see. Lion tracks too, and several vultures landing at a distance. But since we are in the park, and not a private concession we do not go off road to investigate. As we stop for another round of tea and coffee, the radio cackles to life. There has been changes in flight times of our fellow travellers Dan and Jane who were honeymooning at Jack’s. We rush them to the airstrip and all the while I am thinking ‘I could get used to this.’
In the afternoon we are alone in the Landcruiser- a privilege the well-heeled of the world pay dearly for. The plan is to go walking with the meerkats and to go out onto the pans for a sun downer. Meerkats or suricates are small communal-living mammals of the mongoose family. These meerkats, even though completely wild, are habituated to human presence. They scamper around the grassland, hunting and digging for food oblivious of our presence. The young do not hunt much, but spend the whole time whimpering and making begging noises. Before one can wonder what they are begging for, a sub-adult brings a fat scorpion to one of the small ones. It squeals in delight. They are immune to scorpion venom, we are reassured.
One sub-adult male digs intently for giant bull frogs. These stay underneath the pan surface waiting for just the right conditions before emerging. Suddenly from below the surface there’s a low growl and upon hearing this the dominant female comes rushing to depose the sub-adult and rob him of his catch. The sub-adult walks on, disappointed but clearly used to this bullying. She, on the other hand excavates the bull frog and daintily dismembers it. It is the law of the bush. Nature certainly takes no prisoners.
We can’t stay for long to witness the gruesome table manners. We have a sunset to watch. With any luck we might even see the elusive brown hyenas. The Makgadikgadi pans, a Birdlife Botswana important birding area (IBA) was fashioned by dramatic climatic and geological events over millions of years to form the desolate wasteland is seems to be. But looks can be deceiving. Millions of brine shrimps, algae and other tiny life forms thrive on the hyper-saline pans and support thousands of migratory birds, notably lesser and greater flamingos which breed on these pans. We however, see no flamingos because the rains have been late. ‘For that you have to come back,’ says Super with a mischievous smile.
Super Sande like most professional safari guides in Botswana got into the industry quite by accident. ‘I knew Jack, after whom the camp was named. I was a camp hand, tractor driver and general odd-jobs man.’ Then an easy smile, as he shifts his massive frame. Super is built like a professional American footballer. ‘I had little education, but was prepared to learn. To work hard, apply myself. Ralph, Jack’s son and one of the owners of the camp opened the doors for me. Taught me most of what I know. The rest the bush taught me.’ Super knows a lot about the bush in general, and the Makgadikgadi pans specifically. He has been featured in documentaries, books and even on one edition of UK GQ Magazine. It is humbling to meet someone who has fought so hard to turn his fortunes around.
Our stay is coming to an end. But not without one last excursion- an interpretative nature walk with the Zu/’hoasi San trackers and guides. The walk is filled with laughter and games to test one’s coordination. The trackers knowledge of the bush is legendary. One look at the spoor of a zebra has one saying ‘pregnant mare, early this morning- limping on the hind left leg!’ Lessons on ethno-botany and bush survival are also dispensed. The experience is almost sacred, certainly profound.
Our bags, and a carry-on picnic, are packed. With a heavy heart I realise that few Batswana will experience their country in this manner. I am glad that Super Sande, senior guide at Jack’s camp and an old friend has invited us to spend the most amazing festive break with him. For more information on reservations and rates contact Uncharted Africa Safaris at http://www.unchartedafrica.com.

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A northern black koorhan shatters the late afternoon stillness with a loud harsh squawk. It takes to flight in a staccato cluck-cluck sound, like a helicopter. In the distance a few  zebras dot the horizon. The salty dust stings the nose.  An uncommon quiet, serene, molten and almost transcendental envelopes my senses. ‘Welcome to Jack’s Camp!’ a cheerful voice disrupts the reverie.

The camp is on the edge of Ntwetwe pan. One of the two main pans that make up the Makgadikgadi ecological system. To the south is Sua pan. The olive green tents are cryptically located on a grass island amidst Commiphora trees and Hyphaene palms. Super Sande, our guide, escorts us to the main area for refreshments and a briefing on camp and general wilderness etiquette.

Lesson 15

waiting is a very vulnerable state. it is like a moment between heartbeats. the next one is not necessarily assured. yet the heart keeps on keeping on. it contracts and relaxes in rhythm with the pulse of life. life is vulnerable, because it waits. and waiting does not imply some inactive vegetative state. waiting is just the next heartbeat, the next moment of growth. whether we like it or not, we often have to wait: for our loved ones or boss, or whoever to say something, for the potential client to call back- for that breakthrough. it is never easy, but it is necessary to learn to wait without losing a part of our minds. wild animals, especially predators have mastered the art of the wait. go on, be a predator; wait.

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