Don't Lean on or Touch Anything!

Interesting life in South Africa.

Electricians can come to your domicile and not have tools to do the job they are called for, rather expectations are that you will have the meters, hammers, chisels needed for any workman that you need. After all it is your need right. Do you have a fully stocked warehouse of hardware, tools, ladders? Think again if you want to have something done.

Recently i have been visiting one or our partners in a wilderness area (Lapalala). It has been quite an education. Appreciation to people who do care for our planet and learn how to take care of it so it is passed on to future generations. I don't know about you but i want my grand children and their children to see a lion or giraffe in the wild. It is exhilarating! It is a heritage.

Now on to some observations. Give priority to the directive "Don't lean on anything in South Africa".

I said in the past i would talk about some bugs. Well to be specific, i don't know what a bug is or not except that if something is alive and it is annoying in any way then it bugs me so it is a bug. (My children will say they are at times bugs, but really, they are not. Really :) ).

I was introduced to a caterpillar here last year that was on my tree. This tree is in a planter on the front patio of my home here. When I say a caterpillar understand that it is collective and means millions. These critters, or sorry, bugs, were cleverly disguised on the trunk of the tree and if you wanted to just lean on this tree you would be VERY surprised! Actually the tree was hardly visible thanks to the inhabitants. They only become evident when a slight breeze came across the horde of furry bugs. When this happened their reaction was to raise their red head and it looked like a mass of lava on the tree. So realistic that you wondered why the tree was not burning, smoking, smoldering or something hot. But the bugs, they were red headed. They looked firery and dangerous. Must be a natural warning to every other life form on the planet!

Well enough. They were bugs. They were on the tree. They were outside. Ok, i go inside. Soon after a few of my guests came and told me that there were a herd of caterpillars on the move and sure enough, they were climbing down the tree (I think some were repelling) onto the planter, down the side and onto the patio. Okay, this is fine if they had someplace to go, like explore the woods (which there are not any here but how about Europe?), or how about sight seeing in the Arctic? But no, they were heading directly to the house! Yikes, now they were BUGS! Efforts to turn their direction were in vain, even when using bug killer spray (stuff that i have proven to be quite lethal on anything I shot it at) they were not deterred from their journey or destination. I sprayed a huge arc directing them to the lawn but somehow they must have seen "Bridge over the River Kwai" or something similar and got over, around, or under but past the barrier and up on the wall heading into the attic spaces. Now this was nothing more than a photo op. I resigned and am comforted to know there is a bug blanket of insulation over my head today.

I sit in my living room today thinking it must be about time for them to have transformed (if in fact they do that which i don't really know) and come out. Interestingly, at night I hear many a noise i cannot identify coming from above and wonder what is going on up there!

Now momentarily back to my wilderness experience. When i was there i was blessed with a night drive into the bush. We stopped. Opened a bottle of wine, sat on the tailgate with some rhino's standing nearby and with the zebra, wildebeest, impala, mongoose (is this right?) and a variety of other wildlife. One of the most enjoyable moments was when my host started to tell me what the different sounds were. It was amazing how many different things that you could identify (well not me but i could hear the difference just did not know what there were). I digressed because a discussion on bugs ensued and i learned about bugs that i don't want to see but they are around me everywhere here.

One was seen the next day, perfectly blended into the leaves of a lemon tree (and i have a lemon tree in my yard).This wormish critter became noticeable when you closely looked and moved into it's direction. Without warning, and quite alarmingly these HUGE RED FANGS shot out of it's head (maybe not the head) in self defense i was guessing (hoping that it was not a stalking maneuver). Again, this BUG was numerous and largely undetectable until....Don't just lean on a tree here! Look close at anything here in the summer and it will start to move!

In my room, I have a net over my bed because I am not a blood donor to African mossy children. One night as I lay in bed checking on some of my partners, and texting with them, I catch movement in my peripheral vision and this (T'Nell would say vulture size) spider was on my net. Okay, I knew he could not get in (I say he because we all know how gentile the female species is and would not harm anyone cuz they are the nurturers)(and this is a lie because nature shows us how ruthless the female of most species are, especially the insect world!!!) but my reaction was quick and I swatted at him (with the back of my hand not intending any permanent harm because I can tel from the carcasses littering my domicle every morning that he actually performs a great service) and sent him on a free air ride across the room. I heard him thud on the door of my wardrobe (I wonder if I will ever be able to get to Narnia through this one? Are there bugs there?), then he picked himself up. Dusted himself off. Then he turned to me and (I'm sure i saw this but I understand your dispute on this issue considering the physiology of a spider) stuck his tongue out at me. (A bit later I read something that scientists say no person on the planet is ever more than 3 feet away from a spider at any time! We already found out that we swallow an average of 13 of them per year in our sleep. I'm trying to cut down, hence the netting).

Anyway, this BUG got his revenge the next day when I arose smelling sweet flowers in a field with birds singing and deer and antelope playing. (Ok, that is not real but I said this just so you know I wake up in a good mood). I step out of my secure enclosure and after a brief visit to neighboring rooms come back and started to lean on my desk (yes it is in this room) and low and behold on a nicely folded hand kerchief was this varmint again just sitting there (I'm pretty sure with his tongue sticking out), daring me to lean closer. But AHAAAAAA! I saw him at the last possible pre destruction moment and went for a judu move. (this is not a martial art, it is a voice in your head asking after the act that astonishingly asks yourself in a very hurried manner "did you do" (that implied) because sometimes you surprise yourself how fast and in what direction you can actually move. Go ahead, say it as fast as you can and you will know judu too). After my lightening reflexes (mandating the judu statement) he scampered away across the desk and into the cavernous openings where pencils and stationary items rest. He was making his plan for another assault, I just knew it! Now I think twice before leaning on my desk! :(. He wins.

I could go on, but the lesson learned here is that there are BUGS everywhere here. Lean on anything at your own risk and peril. I look closely at door knobs, at shelves in grocery stores, at other people! I'm not freaked out about it, but I am carful to notice things, and now think that maybe it is okay to lean on the inside of your refrigerator, or perhaps you can lean inside a boiling pot with nothing to worry about. Well then, on second thought, maybe that is laced with it's own set of lessons. Anyway, my thought? Don't lean on anything.

More to come later. Thanks for listening.


Wild Africa

I put some of this in my last entry but was requested to elaborate more on some of the events. So without further apologies here is a restatement and additions to my thought, views, and observations in South Africa.

January 15, 2012.

Observations. Yes, I do notice things that might be to common to the residents of South Africa to take notice anymore. Like, the constant croaking of the frogs about 100 feet from my door. There are at least 273,000 of them. For sure. It sounds like there may be one or two more than that. Maybe next time. For today, I have other observations to report.


If you have looked at the galleries you will notice that I mentioned a lion charged me. Well, there is more to it. Mary was there and saw the event. She was going to provide me with a written account but her hand might still be shaking from it and i have not gotten her written account. Or she may have just blocked it from her memory for reasons that you might imagine.

Anyway, it was a calm sunny day (not a dark night Mary). I was taking pictures of many things around and as anyone who has been here might remember it appears that the camera is surgically attached to me but that is not true. I just feel very responsible for documentation to supporters and families who have sent their families to WILD AFRICA.
Anyway, we were there. I was noticing at this particular place (a game viewing place), Caesar's Bush Palace, that there were animals in enclosures all around us as we walked around exploring.

Now let me say that everyone I have taken there asks the same questions about the name of this place. It is called Caesar's, but it has nothing to do with Romans. It does have very large bronze statuary in the shape of mid-evil armored knights mounted on their steed. This place has nothing to do with mid-evil history. Palace implies royalty and this place has no palace that I have ever noticed. So when people ask about the name, it is easy for me to just say "I don't know". I do see that there is some identifiable part in the name, and that is the "bush" part. There are bushes around it, and it is in what is referred to as The Bush in South Africa. So there you are. Back to the lion. (ok a bit more on the name. The first resident of the "Palace" was a lion named Caesar. He is the king of beasts so make your own assumptions on that).

As I was taking photos of a lion in his enclosure (with 4 other lions as well), this big male turned and in an instant charged me. If you have seen the pictures note that I was shooting still frames at the rate of 4 per second. I had one second from the time he charged. In the last frame I was looking down his back and could not see his face anymore. That is because (did I say he was enclosed?) he hit the enclosure. This barrier was a chain link fence that I make no pretense of imagining it would have stopped him if he was serious. He hit it hard enough that it tore the fence fabric at the bottom from the concrete that it was set in. See, if he really was serious, then I would not be writing this now. But I am writing this now.

I did not flinch because the camera was talking and it said "press the button, press the button". My thought was only that if he reached with his claws he would snag the strap and the camera would break. That quick, I then just turned my back to him and saw Mary who defined the color white. Mary, if you want to add your comments I will gladly publish here. We all went home safely. I have been there again and the fence was reset in concrete.

Did you know there is a difference between jaguars and leopards? The first has a rosette inside his spots but both are related and called panthers. The facility has an enclosure with one jaguar by himself, and I think I might know why. On a subsequent visit I was there with a bunch of people on a tour and there was a small child that he (the jaguar) kept pace with and his eye on. I noticed that most of the cats immediately looked at small children and began following him. The parents of this child were modern tree huggers and wanted their child to be one with nature (is what they said). At a previous enclosure with a cheetah (this is a very large cat about the size of cheetah), the mom was holding the baby (I'll call her baby Doe) and putting her hand into the fence so the cat could do cat things with it. Well that was fun until the cat bit the child.

Now I think that I would not have done this to my children, ya I'm positive. Just look at my children, they have all their fingers and no noticeable bite marks. So I must have always made the decision not to put their hands in wild animals mouths. Also, I think I would have grabbed my baby away and looked at her to make sure she was ok. This mother (must have MJackson blood in her) just says "look, isn't that cute, my baby is becoming one with nature". I guess you could take that two ways! I said your baby is bleeding and she laughed and just said it's okay we want her to not be afraid of nature. YIKES! Nobody else seemed to excited, I moved away not wanting to see the devouring of baby Doe. (Baby Doe was not afraid of nature, but I'm pretty sure she was afraid of her parents!)

On to the jaguar. Baby Doe survived the other attempts of her parents to get her into nature (2 thoughts) and was on her own two feet toddling along the fence. (I think she was really trying to run away from home but she was barely walking and did not know what home was or she was just thinking "I wish I could run, I wish I could run!!!" or something like that. Either way she was trying to get away from these people. The jaguar followed her down the line until…

As I approached the enclosure he turned his attention to me and began a low guttural purr. I thought, how cute, he wants some attention. The look in his eye showed a change in demeanor and I thought he might just have gas or something. Then he suddenly changed direction and came to the fence to where I was standing. His purr became a moan and it did not take a lot of thought to see he was angry and getting more angry. His tail was slashing the air like a windmill in Wyoming and he began slapping the fence with his paw. Okay. I'm not asking for trouble. I just moved away and moved on. He followed and charged the fence and everyone got excited and jumped. We all moved away. Not too quickly because that triggers their attack mode. But wait, he was already trying to attack. Okay, I only have to get in front of someone. Anyone. Oh, baby Doe!

A few weeks later I visited again, and the same scenario took place with the slapping of the fence and everything. We moved on. We were with another party that time. No children. The jaguar was growling with force and the ranger said he never acts like that. I told her about the other two incidents with this jaguar and the lion and she said that the only thing she knows is men with high testosterone do get the male animals upset sometimes but she had not seen this behavior so strong.

As we walked around the horseshoe shaped complex we came to the back of the enclosure of the jaguar where I notice he was submerged in his pool. All except his head that was pointed directly at me, and his tail that was slashing the water like a mid evil knight with his sword. He was growling with fervor. There was another man standing about 15 feet from me and noticing him too. I was shooting video on the camera and made comment that he looked like he was going to charge at which the other guy laughed. I asked if he thought the animal would come over the fence or not and at that moment the 150kg of muscle and madness launched out of the water. His intentions clear by the look in his eye! Video running. Here he comes, battery goes flat. Jaguar hits the fence and shakes the entire enclosure. The other man is gone. I think he went to inspect the boroughs of the mongoose but there weren't any. The ranger tries to calm the animal down. I walk away. In my mind I was thinking about this animal's abilities. He could come over the fence without much thought. So it appears that this cat was just playing. Like little kittens looking for some fun from the tourist. Here is where you say on Facebook or other places "LOL". It was fun. Those who read this and were there will know the humor of it all.

Which brings me to another thing. Bugs here are really different. First of all, you remember the attack by the "Parktown Prawn"? Well that so far has been the most dangerous attack by a bug but others here have suffered from wasp stings (sorry Bexi, Rachel and Jason) just from being curious. Over Christmas Richard, Cathie and the rest of the family and Jason spent time in Vaalwater with me. We noticed some really cool things, but caterpillars migrating was a surprise. We saw these masses of them on the tree outside the door and the slightest breeze made their head turn red. They wiggled so much it looked like the bark of the tree was coming alive and leaving the safety of the tree to go and do who knows what. After the fun of inspecting them for a while, we gave it a break only to find later that the entire army of them were on the move and marching toward the house. AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But interesting synchronization and timing on their part. (Suddenly thinking of the swimming events to come this year).

Now, my son and daughter (CJ and Mo) will remember how much fun they had herding pidgeons in Venice Italy. I'm not sure why that came to mind but I used the idea to make an attempt to herd the invaders away from the house. Ya, you might laugh but it was easier than you think to make them change direction. A little barrier of bug spray halted their pursuit to cocoonville. Alas, it was not enough to dissuade them from their quest. No matter how long of a trail of bug barricade was put down they just went to the end of it and around and back to the house. There is not enough bug spray in the world to stop this.

So here I sit within the confines of my domicile, reflecting on the whereabouts of millions of cocoons dispersed in the walls, ceilings, wherever as I sit and type this. I'm not conscious at all of what lurks around me. When you hear breathing in the night, it might not be one being, it might be a million in unison. Did I ever talk about strange noises in Africa? Another day. Let's finish cats.

On another excursion, with our group at Christmas, we went to a game capture park where they auction animals for the different game reserves here. They have a great variety of animals and they display them in zoo style before they are sold.

This fun day came shortly after the many parties we had at the creches this year, and I have to admit I was a bit tired and just trying to wind down a bit so not paying close attention to the surroundings. Reflecting on how things go at the creches, many of you can remember this, when I arrive it is quite common for the children mob me. One time in Alexandra this year (189 children in this creche) I walked in and the mob surrounded me and clung onto my legs and then packed themselves tight for about 12 rows around. Anyone who has been here knows you DO NOT GO DOWN IN A GROUP LIKE THIS! (Remember Jake?) Ok, I could not have fallen if I wanted to! But it was extremely HOT having that many bodies clinging onto me. After several minutes some of the teachers noticed I was unconscious and being held up in this swarming mass of little bodies. They came and saved me. I'm used to this from the kids and know I will survive it. It happens at every creche. (I do enjoy these greetings. Why? I realize the children do it because they know I care about them. That is very rewarding.)

Back to the game capture event. As we walked into the facility we were all just kind of milling around to see what was available to look at. I was thinking about where a good picture might be taken to get the photo shooting day off to a good start. There were a lot of people there and we were in kind of a big crowd. Then, without much notice I felt one of the children come up and hug my leg. A bit oblivious to it as it was a normal thing for children to do this. I didn't look down, I just looked around to see if there was a parent or teacher there that I recognized.

Now my attention was almost forcibly directed to my leg as the child was puncturing my skin and I thought what kind of toy does this child have? Urgently looking down, the face of the child (ZOIKS!) looked remarkably like the face of a tiger. YIKES! It was a tiger and it was clawing me and began chewing my leg! (don't freak here, it was a tiger cub about 20 inches tall). Now my reaction is I know you don't run from a cat, but this one has me in his grip and his mouth fits nicely around my leg so maybe it's time to find a self defense strategy.

Going through self defense strategy list: (much like your life flashing before your eyes.)
a. Use your sword to smack and dismember attacking cat. Okay but you are not a knight and forgot to wear your sword today.
b. Pull out a flute and lead the animals out of the town. No that piper was way north with a different climate and it was a different problem.
c. Scream like a little girl. (especially like Sarah cuz nobody screams like her). That won't work cuz I don't have a little girl voice, but I could have asked Sarah to scream for me in retrospect, just didn't think of that plan at the time. (next time Sarah?)
d. Reach down and pull the varmint off me and throw it to the crocodiles. (but for some reason the memory of the lady from Spain who tried to pet the lion cub and got her hand bit came to mind. She was upset and tried to tell the lion I'm just petting you and did it again. And got bit again!). No thanks! I was already not enjoying this mastication and calculating the losses better not to lose an arm and a leg. (I'll still need arms and legs to pay at the gas pump, and throwing the feline to the crocodiles would have been a heroic feat with a toss of around a quarter mile.)
e. Pretend you are in "The Matrix" and none of this is real. How true. Tigers are not native to Africa anywhere. So this must not be a tiger on my leg and this is not happening. Well, ok but I was pretty sure the blood leaking from my leg was wet and that was real enough.
f. Use the free leg to dislodge feline and put a size 15D on it (Parktown Prawn style) until it surrendered. HA! Plan worked. (After third attempt and using a knee to the head.)

So why, in a crowd this size, did this beast come through so many people and latch on to my limb? So I could tell you this story of course. And it's all true.

I spent the rest of the day avoiding cats. I was thankful the holes in my jeans were not so noticeable. I was thankful I only had 4 treatable holes in my leg. That cat was around all day running loose in the crowds. Many people played with it. It attacked nobody else that I saw.

Oh MY:
Have not seen any bears lately. These are my observations on Wild Kingdom for now.

Yes, life here is amusing and interesting. More later. Let me know your thoughts, and how you are being amused along the way too.



Another past entry.

Parktown Prawns

October 22, 2008

So now you will see what makes Africa so interesting.  I have been hearing stories about how big the bugs are here, and how many there are.  Just last week when I was in Vaalwater I found four different varieties of spiders in my cottage.  Now they really have some interesting ones here, and I am not so fearful of these creatures but you should see some of these.  How interesting they are!  One is so flat I think he could crawl under a postage stamp on a letter after it has been franced.

Anyway, on with the story.  One of our partners was telling me about a grasshopper they have here with the nick name "Parktown Prawn".  This is because they are big, and now from my first encounter I have to say they look like a few of them could make a meal.  (Of course you would want to prepare them correctly, like a scampi or such).  Back to the story.  The one I was able to observe happened to be in suite with me in Johannesburg.  Now I have a cardinal rule about bugs.  I don't care for them that much but as a rule will leave them alone unless they commit one fatal act.  That is, if they make the mistake of charging me, I will blitz them!  So you may ask how do you know when they are actually charging you?  Well, you can tell by the look in their beady little buggy eyes!

This "prawn" was doing a little dance on a stool, and it was kind of cute.  He had a kind of brownish body with red stripping on his legs (okay it might have been a her.  I  don't think I could actually tell the difference if I knew where to look).  Then, without provocation, he (let's just get this over with.  It's a "he" because "hers" don't have anything to prove.  He definitely was trying to intimidate me.  A 3 gram being thinking he is going to prawn punch someone who outweighs him by...well outweighs him) makes his move. 

I must add here, that the fight or flight mechanism does change with age.  Your thought goes from (5 years old) screaming into the wilderness and ending up lost because you don't know where you have run to.  Next is the (14 years old) I am scared to death, and I remember how to run, and I can run fast, but there is that girl over there who might not think it is so cool if I hide behind her.  Then it is the (approximately 25 years old and definitely married) I had better face this monster because my wife WILL NOT let me rest if she has to do it in because I am the hunter/gatherer man. This stage lasts the longest, and is encouraged by all those in the wake of the relationship of your wife, namely your children, their friends, the dog and cat you own that your kids expect you to save etc.  Lastly the end game, (over the hill and through the woods, you are past grandma's house and looking for your own retirement home. Your first reaction is "I can't out run anything so either I fight or die trying.  This last stage would be the one I am in.

Mr. Prawn does his quick little two step, I do my jumping to the ceiling (actually just two inches toward it).  Now I know that my future and his are clear.  One of us must go.  Did I tell you that they are big.  I get quite a few questions about how big my feet are.  I wear a size 15D.  More than that, my feet are thick and probably out weigh most bugs. (insects, know where I could go with this).  When I came down, Mr. Prawn was under the left foot squarely and I am thinking "how big of a spot do I need to clean up"?  Then when I went to look, he jumped at me again.  Instantly there is an ample amount of extra juice in my veins flowing which puts me into attack mode. When I put my foot down, I expect it to leave and impression.  So, squash again. (and to tell the truth, it was after a few attempts to get him under my foot again because now he was fight or flighting too).  Now, the second stomp was final.  Not so.  I am cautious, but when I see him stagger and jump again there is now a new respect (translated fear in some dictionaries).  I can't believe he is still here.  He should be fitted with his eternal hardware by now. (you can name your own here, fork, harp etc., I make no judgement on his character).

Okay.  Now the path is clear.  We must execute a new plan.  Standing on Mr. Prawn and having him lift me off the floor is not making my day. To this end, I covered him with a tarp (toilet paper to some), pinched him under it and sent him to (okay, I must confess.  When my children were younger we use to tell them if they flushed a bug they were sending him to China.  Now I regret this.  I have nothing against China, and certainly do not wish them any extra bugs.  But now, I am in South Africa.  When I send him down now, he may actually be going up.  Up to You!  Well, let me know if you need a few more for the Bar B).

Would you believe I didn't get much sleep last night?  That's how I see it right now.