Jessie’s Tummy Mummy Thembi became a good friend thanks to Aitch and her conscientious follow-up and ‘adoption’ of Thembi.
Aitch nurtured her and encouraged and empowered her. She arranged classes such as computer and sewing courses; she had her teeth seen to and hugely improved by the state orthodontists at Addington and King Edward hospitals.
Once a month she would take Jessie – and me and Tom sometimes – to meet for lunch with Thembi when we would also take her supplies and goods to sell; Jessie loved those lunches. She and Thembi would gossip and giggle and point at people walking past commenting on their looks, dress, gait, whatever. Scandalous! They loved it!
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Once we took her back to Port Shepstone so she could show her Mom and Gran that Jess was fine.
Thembi met a guy who was very good to her and was very happy but tragically she then contracted AIDS; Aitch pitched right in and arranged to meet the lady doctor in charge at King Edward and saw to it that Thembi got her treatment on time. She sickened rather quickly though, and grew weak.
Jess wrote to her when I visited her in Addington:
She died in Addington hospital. I took her boyfriend and brother Dumi in the kombi to buy a coffin and then to fetch her body; then arranged for them to get her remains – and themselves – to Port Shepstone.
After a slow drive from Mombasa we spent a night at a plush hotel in the metropolis of Voi. There it is in the left background. Don’t let Aitch tell you we didn’t spoil ourselves at times. The dining room had a linoleum floor, plastic chairs and metal tables, no table cloth. It was clean and the chicken and rice was delicious. I had a Tusker beer and that too, was delicious.
Then on to a destination I had looked forward to all my life: Tsavo National Park!
All my life? Just about. We got the quarterly African Wildlife magazines and I eagerly read about Africa’s great parks. I also knew of Bernhard Grzimek’s work in the Serengeti and his book Serengeti Shall Not Die. The great parks I knew and fantasised about included Kruger, Etosha, Luangwa, Masai Mara, Amboseli, Wankie, Ngorongoro, Gorongosa – and Tsavo. I remember seeing an aerial picture of the drought in Kenya and how the vegetation IN Tsavo was worse than that outside the park. The story was it was due to Kenya (Leakey?) refusing to cull elephants and other game. Of course it may have been a story by the pro-culling people in SA’s parks. Who knows? Lots of jealousy and rivalry among the ‘good people in conservation’!
Chris and Tilde Stuart, great Africa-philes, chose Tsavo as one of ‘Africa’s Great Wild Places’ in their book of that name, mainly for the huge wild expanse of Tsavo East where you can drive for hours without seeing another vehicle.
Driving around Tsavo East was amazing. We hardly saw any other vehicles. Firsts for us were Vulturine Guineafowl, Gerenuks, Lesser Kudus, White-headed Buffalo Weavers, Golden Starlings.
Vulturine guineafowl – another first
. Tsavo West .
We saw Kilimanjaro! We weren’t expecting to, but as we drove around we suddenly saw a snow-topped mountain top WAY higher than one would expect through the low clouds; way higher than the hills around us. We realised that it must be Kili, the world’s highest free-standing mountain!
. . driving around on a cloudy day we were astonished to see Kilimanjaro over in Tanzania. WAY higher than the ‘mountains’ we were watching (it was overcast). We just weren’t expecting it!
Of course we should have realised we’d be close to Kili, but we didn’t give it a thought. We were in Kenya, Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, and it just didn’t occur to us! That’s our pic of the low clouds on the left and an internet pic of Kili from Tsavo West. Our view was a glimpse through a break in thick clouds, though.
Tsavo National Park was created in 1948. At approximately 21,000km², it is the largest protected area in Kenya. In the late 1960s, there were approximately 35,000 elephants in the Tsavo region. This population has suffered two population crashes, firstly there was the drought in the early 1970s when many died, especially pregnant females, females nursing a calf or young calves. Independent bulls mortality was lower as they were able to travel greater distances in search of vegetation and water.
The second crash was due to the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks. The bulls who survived the drought were now the victims. Kenya had banned legal trophy hunting in 1977. By the late 1980s, at the height of the ivory poaching era, about 6,200 elephants remained in the entire Tsavo region.
I wrote about Aitch’s eye for and taste in art here when she spotted a Willie Bester in Cape Town in 1993 and bought it over my “are you sure?” ignorance.
Around about the same time we met Ingrid Weiersbye on Barry & Lyn Porter’s game farm at Hella Hella and Aitch loved her work and quietly bought two of her paintings, later presenting them to me for my birthday. Ingrid is married to Barry’s brother, ecologist with KZN Wildlife, Roger Porter.
Well, sure as anything, Ingrid just got more and more famous and I’m sure whatever Aitch paid, the paintings are worth way more now. This one is on offer for over R20 000:
And I think ours are better!
More about Ingrid Weiersbye:
Born in England, raised in Zimbabwe, Weiersbye has held eight solo exhibitions. Beside these she has printed five limited edition print releases, has participated in numerous art and environmental projects and her work has been published in several books. She has been well supported by corporate and private collectors, particularly in the UK, Germany and South Africa.
• She has exhibited work for seven consecutive years at the Society of Wildlife Artists’ annual exhibition in London.
• She has exhibited at the British Birdwatching Show for three years at which she won the ‘best stand’ award in 1995 in the art category for her bird paintings.
• She was invited by the Tron and Swann Gallery in London to participate in several major art exhibition from 1992 to 1996 including ‘Parrots of the World’, ‘Wildfowl and Waterfowl’ as well as the British Game Fair.
Additionally she exhibits on most major South African wildlife exhibitions of international wildlife art held regularly at the Everard Reade Gallery in Johannesburg.
Robert’s 7th edition. Handbook of Birds of Southern Africa. Published 2005…main contributing artist
Roberts Bird Guide – Kruger National Park. Published 2006…main contributing artist
Roberts Bird Field-guide. Published 2007
Roberts Geographic Variation of Southern African Birds published 2012…co-author and sole illustrator
Birds of Botswana Field-guide, Published Princeton University Press, 2016…co-author and sole illustrator
Roberts Comprehensive Field-guide to Southern African Birds. Published 2016…co-author and main illustrator
Long-time friends of Trish’s from Cape Town days, Val & Pete Excell came out from the UK to visit in 2009. Trish was finished her chemo and was ‘in remission’. She had been with Val when their little Claire – now about 30 – was born. Val had bought two new Nikon P90 cameras, one for her and one for Trish, so they were excited about the four million pictures they were about to take.
We stayed in a beautiful bush camp – Nhlonhlela has solitude and its own cook and guide – sheer luxury! Patrick the Shembe was great and taught us plenty about his ‘home patch’. He showed us a green, a bronze and a black dung beetle and two yellow and black beetles, and taught us how to tickle a scorpion.
The kids were in a lovely pre-teen space and just reveled in the experience.
Twelve year-old Jess: Help me Dad, I can do this with you; Eight year-old Tom: LEAVE the wheel Dad, I can do it on my own.
Lots of slow walking in the lush green countryside.
When we had to drink for medicinal purposes, the kids manned the kombi-pub, pouring the champagne and opening the beers and savannahs.
Jess & Tom run the bar in the brand new SWB kombi (on loan while ours was being repaired – much delayed!)
Thank you pic sent to my insurance brokers for organising NEW kombi !!
Barry Porter and Aitch got on famously and spent many a happy hour ‘botanising’ on Game Valley Estates (GVE), Barry and Lyn’s game farm in the Umkomaas river valley. GVE encompassed a lovely tract of land on both banks of the river valley below the Hella Hella kop, and a beautiful, special, rare patch of highland grasslands above.
Barry loved having an interested and knowledgeable companion who didn’t think him weird when he spoke Latin! Aitch was fascinated by plants and her tuition by Ian Whitton the cardio-thoracic surgeon botanist; Geoff Nichols, indigenous plant guru; Enver Buchus at Silverton Nursery; and her part-time work at Geoff Caruth’s Geoff’s Jungle indigenous nursery (“Bring elephants back into your garden, plant a marula”), and drank in all the new stuff she learnt from Barry on his natural heritage site in the valley and on the high grasslands on top of the Hella Hella mountain.
Just as she’d do with me and birds, Aitch was always an investigative reporter-type of learner: “Are you sure? How do you know? What are the points that make it that? What else could it be?” Jeeesh! Of course every now and then her questioning would wake you to the fact that, actually, you had it wrong, and then together you’d come up with the correct identification. Oh boy, and she loved that: “See!? Better watch it, boy!” she’d say triumphantly. To me or Barry.
Lots of bum-in-the-air photography (frogs in this case):
Years later Barry gave her a CD and penned this little note with it.
In memory of past pleasant hours spent botanising on Game Valley; and in appreciation of your enthusiastic company and assistance on numerous trips up to Highover.
I hope you enjoy the CD ROM. It’s unfortunate that my scanner can’t scan 35mm slides, I have a far larger collection of slides and many are of better quality than the photos used in this presentation.
Just enjoy! Some of the identifications may be a little off the mark but don’t let that worry you.
We’d see Blue Swallows, Grass Owls and Broad-tailed Warblers (now Fan-tailed Grassbird) in that Highover grassland! And Oribi. These rare swallows nest in aardvark holes and Barry monitored them every year.
Also beautiful Red-necked Spurfowl:
On the farm we met Barry’s brother Roger Porter, an ecologist with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and his wife Ingrid Weiersbye, an amazing bird artist. Aitch bought me two of her paintings: A Red-capped Robin-Chat and a Wood Owl. Stunning.
2013/12/27 Meals: We usually have a vegetarian meal a week. If I have my way its phutu, mfino and speckled beans. Wonderful stuff. The kids love it, but feel obliged to rev me throughout “WHAT!? No meat!? Are we too poor, Dad? This is dodge, Dad! Kinda homeless, Dad!”
Ja Ja! Eat up, I say.
This xmas I picked Tobias’ cabbage and spinach fresh from the garden, boiled it with onions, then drained and added olive oil and simmered with garlic, salt and barbecue spices. Big knobs of butter when served. They gobbled it up after the usual wrinkle-nosed high-pitched HMMMM!? Tom reserves for anything “dodge”. Sometimes I’ll add potato for a sort-of bubble n squeak.
I have to add the occasional green just in case Aitch does peek down from the clouds. Wouldn’t want to get into trouble . . .
puthu – dry mealie meal (maize or corn) porridge;
mfino – spinach or other dark green leaves; in the Free State growing up we called it meroho, Sesotho for ‘vegetable’;
I looked for our last Tembe trip and found I hadn’t written about it, so here goes, a Tembe retrospective.
We hared off to the elephant park on the Mocambican border with Jon and Dizzi Taylor. December 2010, so the kids had just turned 13 and 9.
Aitch wasn’t well, but game as ever, she got fascinated by the close-up views we had of ele feet and ele bums and used the camera’s rapid-fire setting liberally. I made .gifs of her series of pics:
Our guide Vusi kept driving right up one ele’s bum and eventually it got agitated and turned round, to the kids’ consternation. It just shook its ears at him, but to this day – full knowing that I’ll insist ‘No it didn’t!’ – they’ll say “Remember when that elephant tried to kill us?”
Another kids’ meme that has survived the years is Jonathan leaning inwards as we passed thorny branches intruding onto the track. To this day whenever we drive past a branch Jessie will lean inwards against my shoulder and laugh, even though we’re in an enclosed vehicle!
Jessie, ever the champion spotter, pointed out this beautiful Vine or Twig Snake Thelotornis capensis on the path in camp.
On one drive we were able to compare a rare black rhino footprint with an unusual white wino foot:
Our last game drive was one too much for Aitch. She asked to be taken back to the Lodge and we finished the drive without her. Back pain from her cancer that had spread to her bones meant she reluctantly skipped a drive – something she would never normally do, so we knew it was sore! She had been a champ all along, full of good cheer, but this did turn out to be her last game drive.
footnotes – what we learnt in 2018:
Vusi is now camp manager. He gave a lo-o-ong speech before supper *yawn!*
The painted dogs we saw in the boma were released but the project was not a success. They caught them and shipped them elsewhere. Then one bitch who had wandered off returned and gave birth to 15 pups! So Tembe has painted dogs in the boma again!