Pilanesburg game park and "food"
Before starting the “work” in the townships we were treated to a weekend in the Pilanesburg Game Reserve a couple hours northwest of Pretoria. It was my first time seeing the (as my old university professor put it) “charasmatic mega-fauna” that Africa is so famous for. We drove in, and almost immediately saw three giraffe heads sticking up above the low bushes. Cool!
Then it was an elephant off in the distance, and I was well on my way to being a happy camper. Then the two small cars in front of us quickly turned around and sped off the other direction. And lumbering down the road came this dirty fella, trunk looped over a tusk as though deranged. We were in a Land Rover with a trailer and turning around on the narrow road was not an option so we sat and watched to see if he would mind. He got good and close, checking us out, maybe not super happy about us and when right outside my window gave a nice loud trumpet. I admit I flinched back at that point, but Katrien is made of steel, so here’s her perspective.
Christo, our friend-local-expert-driver-guide said he got the feeling the elephant had been kind of playing a prank on us, and as the massive animal stood just passed us with its giant wrinkly buttocks facing us, it was pretty easy to imagine it chuckling to itself about making us jump.
That was our most intense encounter, but we spent the two days seeing rhino, giraffe, baboon, impala, kudu, waterbuck, warthogs, zebra, wildebeest, hippo,
various birds, monitor lizards?, a lion’s footprint, and the well-eaten carcases of an elephant and giraffe.
The rhino definitely stick in my mind as impressive animals, including one place where two adults and a junior-size were grazing their way through a dusty field and passed a few warthogs, whose downward-dog grazing posture made them appear to be bowing to their massive armored colleagues. And the giraffes were a sweet surprise, soft eyes and an air of wisdom. Or, depending on the notches in their ear that sort of looked like they had just out of bed, kind of goofy.
We spent the night in an enclosed campsite, having a barbeque (which is an integral part of South African life, called a “braai”) trying the African staple of corn meal mixed with water into a thick paste. It is called pap (pronounced “pop”) in South Africa, nshima in Zambia, and ugali in Tanzania. And since I wanted to double-check the ingredients, wikipedia informs us that it is also called sadza in Zimbabwe and fufu in West Africa. It is sort of like a bland and thick mashed potatoes or porridge, and is properly eaten with one’s hands, grabbing up a little handful then pressing it or rolling it into a roughly golf ball sized lump, which you then sweep through a basic tomato and onion sauce if you have it. These are lumps of nshima.
I liked it, but had enough to be struck by the fact that for millions (billions?) of Africans, this was it for food, lucky if they have it. The heaps of savory, multi-nutritious plates of varied foods thrown away in Western restaurants stand as opulent crimes of wastefulness.
Other (white) South African food we got to try included biltong and bovril. Biltong is basically beef jerky, but made of everything from ostrich to kudu, and is not actually cooked, just marinated in spices and then dried. It was pretty good. Bovril on the other hand is basically marmite, if you are familiar with that blasphemous crime against taste buds. I love my British heritage, but my lordie lordie, there must be something in the water or lack of sunlight that makes people think eating that sludge is actually a good idea. Bovril is the same. Salty, yeasty, viscous in an overly tenacious sort of way that borders on the sadistic, and is all-around gag-inducing.
This image for example, taken off wikipedia, shows a dose sufficient to cause blindness in an elephant and would be fatal to any human less than 75% English or more than two generations removed from habitation on that isle. I am only 50% English and two generations, so would only handle that polluted bread with welder’s gloves, foot-long steel tongs, and a face shield.
I apologize for this section of the blog. To clear your palate, here is a picture of the dead elephant carcass. All of the guts had been eaten, and those are its ribs sticking out. Now I am going to go eat a nice clean, crisp apple and wash my face.