A Gift From The Gods

13 05 2008

Caprivi camp

Namibia: The dog days of summer

Sometimes, the best and most cherished souvenir from any trip is that given reluctantly by a casual acquaintance. 

 

The campsite was idyllically situated beside the Zambezi near Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. It was an oasis of green lawns, with a bar and toilet block constructed of bamboo walls and thatched roofs so as not to detract from the natural beauty of the spot. Large blossoming trees afforded shade, flower beds provided colour and a stone pathway wound its way lazily throughout. The place was enlivened by several small dogs which raced around playing with each other and anyone kind enough to offer a good belly rub. In short, it was bliss.

 

The owners welcomed us to their slice of Nirvana and invited us to pitch our tents wherever we liked. They offered hot water in the showers, cold beer in the bar and table tennis and pool tables overlooking the river. Before leaving us to settle in, they offered one stern warning.

 

“Beware of snakes” they said, solemnly. “We’ve had a bit of a problem, so when you walk around, particularly after dark, use your torch and stamp your feet. Snakes don’t look for trouble, but if you stumble upon one and surprise it, you’ll likely come off the worse.”

 

“What types of snakes?” someone asked needlessly, as if it makes a difference which venom kills you.

 

“Black mambas and spitting cobras” he answered, nonchalantly, before giving us a happy wave and strolling away.

 

We looked at each other nervously before laying stake to a plot of grass. The campsite was soon ringing with the sound of mallet on metal tent peg and before long a small village of rag-tag travellers had found a new home. Each of us carefully inspected the ground before pitching the tent, anxiously scanning it for snake holes. My spot was pristine and with the job done, I headed for a refreshing shower.

 

The evening passed uneventfully except for the increasing glow of a raging bush fire in the Angolan distance. We stomped off to the toilets and our tents, wielding our flashlights like light sabres. The next morning we awoke to another beautiful dawn filled with the song of birds and the yap of the campsite dogs eagerly seeking playmates.

 

After breakfast I returned to the tent to pack it up. I withdrew the pegs, poles and flysheet. Then, with a long stick, I raised a corner of the ground sheet to ensure there were no dozy snakes still slumbering away. With the coast clear, and the tent stuffed back in its sack, I noticed a small object on the flattened grass. I edged forward cautiously before picking it up for closer inspection.

 

It was a very small, crudely carved, wooden rhinoceros. Well worn, and bearing none of the craftsmanship or polish of most of the carvings found in markets, its naivety and honest character instantly appealed to me. But where had it come from?

 

I had scrutinised the area before pitching the tent, and had pegged it so closely to the ground that not even a breeze could have blown in. Strange things happen in Africa. Perhaps this was an ancient spiritual totem that had simply materialised in my presence. Never one willing to offend the Gods, I reverently placed it in my pocket and adopted it as a very special good luck token.

 

As we drove away, the campsite owners waved good-bye and the small dogs ran after us, yapping and jumping as if losing a playmate.

 

Later, I recovered the little icon from my pocket and examined it more closely. It was scratched and worn and bore little indentations, almost like…like…bite marks from small dogs who used it…as their favourite toy…

 

I have been wracked with merciless guilt ever since.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

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