It was not often that he was caught off guard, but this was one of those times. Moses had been so deep in his thoughts that he did not noticed the footsteps approaching. Admittedly later he saw that the two women had approached with their footsteps muffled as they walked down the middle of the road, where the soft grass was clipped short by the sumps of the vehicles when their wheels sunk into the ruts.
Maybe his guard was also down due to his physical tiredness, and from being distracted by the sounds of the hippos. For some reason the big beasts were being inordinately noisy, grunting and squealing at each other, with a good deal of splashing about. Probably their raucousness was due to a cow in heat, and the dominant bull being challenged by some aroused subordinates.
Moses physical tiredness stemmed from having just returned from the relentless strain of following difficult tracks for three days.
But he was in good spirits, his hunch had paid off.
Prior to that, every day for almost two weeks he had returned to the spiritual ‘water-hole’ he knew must exist, and which he had finally found and staked out.
Being of Africa, Moses intimately knew its ways. Like its animals needed to return to the pools to drink their life sustaining water, so too would a shaman need to return to certain spirit loci where their witch-power could be recharged by communion with their gods.
He knew that Africa’s priests did not need to commune by standing at the altars of grand cathedrals. Instead they were drawn to its inspiring places, prepared long before man could develop his vanity. In many ways it was the humbleness and secretness of these locations which gave them their authority and genuineness, by being set amongst nature’s highlights. The shamans found it more effective when their ‘holy’ communion was done alone and in private. There was no need for the pompous distraction and showmanship of a cathedral.
The only thing that Moses needed to search for was natures’ equivalent of a church steeple, possibly the rise of an imposing hill, or a cliff face, or the conference of big rivers. Then, what he sought, a shamans alter would not be far away.
Fortunately his search had been made even easier by the old mystery man himself, angrily waving him and Gidi away, from atop just such a hill at the confluence of the Lunga and Kafue rivers.
Moses’s search started the day Gidi departed. It had not taken more than a day to find what he sought.
The cave was set back from the river, half way up the hillside as the ridge that formed it was forced up like a ripple in the earths flesh by the pinch of the two rivers as they met. It was neither deep nor imposing, but it was adequate. Also, these factors had obviously been recognized by shamans for thousands of years, for on its walls Moses could make out the faint scratched outlines of shamanic totems.
He could also see that the tracks of the mystery man had returned to this spot many times. It was where that man had communed with his gods.
If there was some focus to any of the witchcraft that was hovering over the region it would be anchored in that cave.
Moses had returned to check the caves location every day since Gidi had left.
Each time he came to scout he used all of the skill that he had learned over the years to disguise his own spoor. Moses realized that his target was probably as proficient as he in Bush craft, and if alerted in the slightest, would be wary of revealing his movements and whereabouts. If alerted it would be more difficult, if not impossible to follow and track him down.
Finally his patience paid off, three days earlier Moses found a fresh set of tracks.
But now, it was the sound of her voice which startled him, causing him to swing around with the speed of a stalking cat who has just had its tail pulled.
‘Sorry!’ she exclaimed, ‘We didn’t mean to scare you.’
Moses looked up rather sheepishly. ‘Yes you did give me a bit of a jump!’
‘When we go out on a game drive, or when we walk past here we have noticed your campsite. We are curious to see who occupies this place.’
‘By the way, I am Lauren, and this is my friend Birdie.’
It was the tall blonde woman who was talking.
‘If you do not mind my asking, what is your name?’
‘Moses!’ he replied.
‘That’s an old fashioned name, she said, ‘ very biblical.’
Moses smiled] back at her, slightly surprised at the effrontery of her statement, but not put out by it, , ‘Yes, it is and I guess I deserve it more than you can imagine. ‘
Noting the quizzical look on her long but not unpleasant face he fanned her curiosity again.
‘I started life by being abandoned on the bank of a river, and those who raised me, being missionaries, did not have to look far for inspiration to find a name. So yes, that is why my name is biblical.’
Moses saw how the woman’s wide smiling lips had begun to part seemingly on the brink of a follow-up question.
‘But that is another story for another time,’ he concluded.
The tall woman started speaking again. ‘We have been here for a week now. There’s just so much game viewing and sitting around in nature that one can take. If it was up to me I would suggest we explore a bit further afield.’
The woman gave a frustrated flick of her hands.
‘How much longer are you going to be here?’ Moses queried.
‘Were not quite sure, it isn’t up to us!’
‘So who is it up to?’
‘It is up to my father!’ It was the dark black haired girl who spoke for the first time. She had been standing very still next to her friend. Her stillness contrasted with the animated ernestness with which the tall blond woman spoke her sentences.
As she looked at him with quiet intensity, as if weighing him up in some way, it was not just her speech and manner that Moses noticed as contrasting, it was also her appearance. Where her friend was a long legged race horse, she was a thoroughbred. Where her friend was fair, she was dark, made more so by hair and eyes that seemed almost coal black, and her deep copper skin was as nblemished as a chamois. Where her friend was tall, she was short.
‘Can I ask what may affect his decision?’ Moses said politely.
‘You will have to ask him,’ replied the dark one.
There seemed to be a certain tension between the two women on this point.
‘So why are you folks out here?’
The tall one jumped right back in again. ‘We are here to celebrate our divorces!’ She said this in a tone of emphatic satisfaction, as the dark one grimaced in grudging agreement.
‘Well at least I am!’ the tall woman raised her hands high above her head and made the V for victory sign with both hands, as she gave a little skip of pleasure. ‘Free at last! Free at last!’
‘Birdie here has already been free for two years.’ she continued, ‘and has forgotten some of the pleasure of being foot loose and fancy free again. But I think her status is still fresh enough for us to celebrate.’
Moses noted how the dark woman surreptitiously rolled her eyes.
Slightly taken aback Moses raised his eyebrows. ‘That is the strangest reason I have ever heard for coming out on Safari.’
He couldn’t help adding, ‘Did you hope to meet Tarzan?’
The woman called Lauren giggled.
‘Birdie and I have known each other for a long time. Since high school actually. For some reason we seem to have always mirror the events in each other’s lives. So why not this sort of reason to celebrate.’ she asked rhetorically.
Moses realized that she had a sense of humor, when she winked at him, ‘Too bad Tarzan is not a biblical name, or that Moses is not a jungle name! I am sure Tarzan could teach Moses a thing or two about the jungle.’
Moses felt a slight unease as he detected the flirtiness in her voice.
He shrugged, ‘Maybe, but Tarzan only had Jane’, he paused, ‘but Moses being Old Testament, didn’t he have more than one wife?’
Lauren giggled again and looked at him with a certain element of respect. A smile even flickered across the dark woman’s beautiful face.
Lauren bubbled forth again. ‘It was only a few weeks ago that Birdie came back to Africa from some godforsaken South American place where her ex had dragged her. So we decided to join her father, who said he would be out here on business.
‘Well congratulations!’ Moses raised his palm to meet Laurens in a high five.
So! Are you going to let a woman stand around forever or will you be a gentleman and offer us a place to sit?
Lauren looked around at the two tents in the campsite.
Moses bobbed a shallow bow to her, and said ‘Be my guest’ as he indicated towards the wooden table and chairs under the chitenge roof.
‘Isn’t there anyplace less formal, she exclaimed, we get all the pampering and formality we need at the lodge. I just want a gentlemanly deck chair and a good drink.’
OK hang on a moment, I think that my partner Gidi has an extra deck chair in his tent. He is not here right now.
Moses proceeded to gather three such chairs and led the way beneath the cover of the thick riverside trees down to a little sand bar.
Don’t get too close to the water’ he warned, ‘Crocs can leap quite a way out to grab you.’
It was one of those lovely Midsummer, December late afternoons, where the sound of the rippling water mingled with that of the light breeze rustling the leaves of the trees. Their presence had affected the behavior of the hippos, they had quite an down. Now, with their ears and snouts just above the water, they eyed the group of people on the bank.
Lauren laughed out merrily as she commented on this, ‘They look like mischievous children hiding after being caught doing something naughty.’
Moses nodded in agreement and changed the subject slightly.
‘How have you found your stay at the lodge?’
Settling into one of the deck chairs and stretching out her long legs in front of her, Lauren spoke lightly, ‘The best part has been being with Birdie again, It has been fun catching up with her. It has been ages since we were able to really laugh at some of the stuff in our past.
Over the last few years we have kept contact on whatsapp and skype, but nothing compares to being next to each other. Electronically one cannot get the humor of some of the stuff we got up to, let alone try to laugh about it on email.
Other than that, the hospitality has been fantastic. All of it great, the location, the food, the showers, the beds, and the guiding. But I think that we are now both ready to move on. Lauren looked across at her friend to see if she could get some affirmation to her statement. All she got was a little shrug of the shoulders and a pursing of the lips.
‘You see even Birdie wants to get back to civilization!’
‘I need the bustle of the city, she continued. I would not even mind spending some time in Lusaka. We did not spend much time there on the way out here, but they say it is booming these days.
‘So where do you usually spend your time, where do you call home?’ Moses asked.
‘Ohh, these days I have a lovely little pent house apartment right in the heart of Cape Town’s docklands. Have you ever been there and seen what they have done?
Moses cast his mind back to the days he had served in training not too far to the north with Gidi at Langebaan. ‘Not for a long time.’ he replied.
Lauren waved her hand as if to emphasize her point, ‘I miss the bustle of the city and its perks, and I love looking out of my kitchen window at Table Mountain. The Cape is such a beautiful part of the world.
Lauren made a little sad face frown, and then brightened right back up, ‘So, tell us Moses, what do you do out here. The staff at the Lodge said you are doing some anti-poaching stuff. ‘
Lauren changed her tone to give it a staged emphasis, ‘THAT sounds so exciting!’
‘Have you caught any poachers lately, and do you have to do wild dangerous chases like they show on the Discovery channels?’
Moses shrugged, ‘Well actually I have not been here all that long. I am out here to help my friend get to the bottom of some of the strange occurrence’s that could be involved with poaching, but we are not yet sure.’
‘Do you go on patrols? Lauren asked.
‘My friend Gidi often does. He goes with the scouts he is training to see how well they are assimilating his lessons.’
“What sort of training does he do? And can we go on patrol with you?’
Moses shook his head, ‘I don’t think that would be a good idea. I don’t really go on patrol, I track people, find out what they have been doing.
Lauren looked at him imploringly, ‘Oh, why not, I’m bored, we’ve already been on all the game drives that they can offer, and we been up and down the river on the boat. And I don’t like fishing, and I’m on my last book, so we need something interesting to do.’
Lauren looked across at her friend, seeking affirmation again.
Then she winked at Moses, ‘It you are as good as you say at chasing people I’m sure you could give a gal a run for her money.’
Moses was again slightly taken back by the remark. He was not used to such forwardness on the part of women. The inherent conservativeness of his character did not feel comfortable with participating in quick barroom banter, and sparring with witticisms, especially not those dealing with slight raunchiness. With men, maybe yes, but women, no.
Ignoring the comment he turned to the dark woman, the quiet one. She had an air of reticence about her. There was something about her that strummed some harmonious cord in his mind which he never knew existed.
‘It sounds like both of you are very bored.’
‘Yes!’ Lauren replied vehemently.’
Moses stood up and turned to ask, ‘Can I offer you a cup of coffee.’
‘How about a gin and tonic?’ asked Lauren.
‘I’m afraid that both my friend Gidi and I do not drink alcohol. So all I can offer you is coffee, tea or I think there may be some cokes that Gidi has stashed in his tent. Would you like me to look for some?’
‘What!!’ Lauren expressed her incredulity, ‘this is the first time I’ve ever heard any of you Bush folk’s not drinking alcohol.’
Moses smiled, ‘I was raised in a Jesuit mission. There are still certain values that remain with me to this day. And my friend Gidi, he used to drink like a fish, but I think that life and alcohol knocked him down so many times, he finally decided that it would be better to fight only one demon and not two, so he gave up the alcohol. He says he had seeing so many of his mates choosing to give up the other option in that fight.’
The dog girl nodded her head, ‘I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee.’
With that Lauren stood and linked her fingers in a dovetail, and raised them palm upwards as she stretched back on tiptoes and said, ‘Well I think that I will leave you two to your coffee.. I ‘m heading back to the lodge. Maybe Tarzan will be there with a ‘knock-me-down gin and tonic.’
49 – Bird
The dark-haired woman turned sideways in her chair and peered over her shoulder to see how Moses carefully duct under some of the creeper stems drooping from the dense foliage of the river bank trees. In his left hand he clasped a French press, as well as a small jar of powdered milk. In the other he held the handles of two large tin mugs, with the top of a packet of Hewlett’s sugar scrunched between them.
Moses sat down in his deck chair, and set the paraphernalia on the white river sand at his feet.
I apologize for the lack of elegance, but how do you prefer your coffee?’ he smiled at her.
‘I like it with a half teaspoon of sugar to take the edge out of the bitterness, and the same amount of powdered milk to bleach its blackness a tad.’
He handed her her mug.
Then she looked on as he poured his own.
‘Please don’t complain about the amount of sugar I have in mine.’ He looked up at her, ‘It is one of my bad habits, but I like my coffee as black as sin, and strong enough to float a horseshoe. And I like it sweet, because it then becomes a metaphor for life, I like tasting both the bitterness and the sweetness at the same time.
He chuckled at the sour face she made.
‘Actually’, Moses took a sip of his coffee, ‘I borrowed that description from my friend Gidi. Moses took another sip and savored its taste.
‘Now there is somebody who really loves his coffee, and loves it sweet. I sometimes think that he has switched his alcohol to a coffee addiction, not that he was not a caffeine addict even before then. He tells me his ‘Ouma’ gave him coffee in a bottle as a baby. So I guess he had no chance.’
The hippos had relaxed somewhat. They were no longer as concerned by the presence of the two people sitting on the little sandbar at the edge of the river. The scent of the cow obviously more stimulating than their suspicion of the human presence. Some of the snorting and jostling of the contenders had resumed.
‘It sounds like you and your friend work well together. Where is he at the moment? The woman named Bertie glanced across at Moses.
‘He went down to south Africa to give a report to the people who are providing the funds for the training program that he is running. He has been away for a few weeks, but should be back in the next day or two, so you actually may get to meet him. If you are still around that is.’
”What sort of training does he provide?’
Moses shrugged his shoulders. ‘As I mentioned to Lauren, I have only been here for a few weeks, and I have concentrated on tracking people, to find out what they are doing. So I never really sat in on any of Gidi’s training sessions. But from what I understand he is focusing more on the pre-and post ‘Bang’ procedures that are actually as important as the interdiction efforts that are carried out, and get all the publicity, in anti-poaching procedures.
Gidi describes it in this very simple fashion, so that it becomes a clear concept in the minds of the ranges. The ‘bang’ is when a poacher kills an animal. This is the event that traditional anti-poaching efforts have put almost all of their resources and efforts into preventing. But according to Gidi, the pre-and post ‘bang’ are often even more important to the success of a anti-poaching strategy.
The pre-bang is mostly in the field of how to develop intelligence networks and the gathering of actionable information.
This is activity which mostly is focused outside of the national park boundaries.
For example, if it is a small scale operation, the operators live in the villages surrounding the park, and almost everybody knows who they are. So the effort is to find informers who will let the ranges know when they leave the village, and if they’re lucky, to which part of the park they are headed.
Then there are the large operations, with intermediaries which may stretch to towns and cities far away up on the copper belt and reaching into the lawlessness of the Congo. From there they stretch beyond into international destinations. But even here the locals will know of the movement of vehicles and trucks, which will be bringing in strangers and taking out the goods. Here the rangers need to work with the police and eveninterpol. How to develop rapid response liaison protocols is what Gidi focuses on here.
Then there’s the post ‘bang’ operations. At the end of the day, Zambia is a country which mostly operates within the rule of law. An anti-poaching operation is fundamentally a law enforcement activity. This means that once apprehended the poachers need to go through the justice system, which entails collection of evidence, and crime scene processing. Also the preparation for trial. This of course has been an aspect which has been often ignored. It has simply resulted in a revolving door for the poachers. A poacher gets apprehended, held for a short period before he’s brought before a magistrate, and then released with a slap on the wrist for lack of evidence.
Moses noticed how the woman had turned her head to look away, as she followed a flare up between two of the hippos slightly down river.
It was then that he allowed himself to look more carefully at the exquisite outline of her features and the outline of her face. As she raised her cup to her lips he let his eyes drift down her arm. His gaze followed the fine floral tattoos on the dark amber of her skin. These tumbled down her shoulders, onto her arms, brushed behind her elbows, and delicately reappeared on her forearms, until the pattern teased to the edges of her wrists.
The woman turned back to look at Moses, ‘So what exactly do you do if you say that your job is to track down people. Are you tracking down the movements of poachers once they are in the park?
‘No, I’m not tracking poachers specifically. There seems to be something else going on, which neither Gidi nor I can quite understand yet.’
‘What do you mean? Are other people entering the park? to do what?’ she asked..
‘Well the kafue national Park is a huge area, and it has an unusual history.’
Moses picked up a pebble and tossed it into the slowly flowing waters just beyond their feet.
‘This park was gazetted not too long before the British gave up their colonial control of this country.
Before it was declared a park, there were some small tribes in the area which had been practicing their way of life for a long time. Some of these tribes were moved out of the area, but allowed to keep their fishing rights. So today there is a set number of licenses issued to Tribesmen to enter the Busanaga planes and set up their big fish traps.
Incidentally that is why we are allowed to fish on the rivers in the park, which is illegal in most other parks in the world.
Some of these fishermen also engage in illicit poaching. Which is done while they are in the park legally.’
But mostly this is what we call subsistence poaching. It is opportunistic, and more to feed their family and friends than it is to make money on a commercial scale.
The other problem is that the Kafue is so huge that since independence the government has not allocated sufficient funds to maintain or police it properly.
Thus certain areas of it have come to be considered by some poaching groups as their territory, much like street gangs in the West consider parts of the city to be there turf, which they defend aggressively.
This has been very much the case in the area which leads all along the Lunga River, from its confluence with the Kafue River, for 80kilometers north as far as the parks Kabanga Gate.
But for a while now Gidi says he has started to see the signs of turf battles around our area of the Lodge.
This is highly unusual, as the poachers have tended to respect the long standng status quo, of, if you don’t mes with us, we won’t mess with you.
Gidi asked me to help him figure out what is going on. It seems that the clue to it all is held by a single man.
It is this man who I am following.
‘Have you found out much? ‘ she asked.
‘Yes.’ Moses said quietly, ‘But it is just making the picture more complex.’
He gave a sigh, ‘But anyway, Gidi will be here soon. I can tell him what I have found out so far. I am sure he will be able to figure it out.’
‘You seem to have a lot of confidence in him!, she stated with a surprised purse of her lips.
‘Yes I do,’ he answered back, ‘I have been with him in some very bad situations. He has always managed to sort things out and get us out of trouble. He was a very good officer.’ Moses paused, ‘One of the best in our unit, which was one of the best the world has ever seen.’
Moses flicked the dregs of his coffee into the river.
‘I’m curious, what kind of business is your father engaged in an?’
The woman sat for a while before she replied. ‘I’m not quite sure. My father has fingers in many pies. The woman in my father’s family, including myself, are generally not privy to what he does.’
‘But whatever it is he wants over here, I hope it will be over soon, because I can sense that Lauren is starting to annoy him with her pestering to leave.’
‘Why is that a problem?’ Moses tilted his head quizzically.
‘My father is a wonderful father, but he is an old fashioned type, he does not tolerate woman who do not know their place in life.’
She took the last sip of her coffee, and set her mug down on the sand before she continued.
‘The other problem is that my father is not used to women who react very badly to men who want them to be ‘seen and not heard’.
She took a deep breth.
‘Lauren is one of those, as her husband recently found out… So I hope we can be away before things get out of hand.’
‘By the way,’ Moses had stood and picked up the two mugs, ‘From the sound of it yours does not seem to be a name that someone like your father would name his daughter!’ he said.
She smile back at him. ‘It is not. That is my nickname. I got it at school. Actually Lauren gave it to me.
You see my name is that of a bird, which is where ‘birdie’ comes from.
I am named after a beautiful African bird. It was a name given by Le VBalliant, the French Naturalist who came to Africa in the 18th Century. He named the bird after his beautiful mulatto mistress.’
‘My name is Narina.’
What kind of bird was it?’ Moses asked.
A Trogon’ she replied.
‘And your father’s name?’
‘His name is Mustafa,’ she said, ‘Mustafa Beyh’.
(50 – Guests)
Precious had been at the periphery of the safari business for long enough to know that December is the start of the slow tourist season in this part of the world. It is when the usual clients are hunkered down in the cold and darkness of their northern winter, with scant vacation time to travel out to Africa, even if they so wished.
Also, unlike the plethora of long, bright and mostly dry days of the northern summers, the Central African summer is more aptly named the wet season, and December is when this wetness begins in earnest. It is the rains of December which produces the burst of vitality causing the long grasses and the leaves on the trees to fill the vegetative fabric of the bush like the unfurling of a parachute, hiding and obscuring the animals from view.
However, despite this being the case, it is not unusual for the Lodge to be filled with guests between Christmas and New Year, even though it is the rainy season, and the long dirt road between Mumbwa and the Lubungu pontoon is often barely negotiable, even with a 4 x 4 vehicle. Neither the rain, nor the poor state of the road can keep the local wealthy away.
They have the 4 x 4 vehicles, and they are the ones with the winches, ropes and expertise of knowing how to extract vehicles once they are stuck in the mud.
What was unusual was to have the whole lodge booked by a single client from mid-December to the end of the year, with an option for another week. It was also unusual to have it booked for so long by a Muslim who had little interest in taking time off to celebrate a Christian holiday. But then Africa is often full of the unusual, and Precious saw that it was the name of Muhammed Beyh which appeared on the booking sheet.
She had heard of him. His reputation stretched even as far west as Mumbwa, where the small Indian community dominated the town’s commerce below the tall spire of its Mosque. Maybe it was them who whispered the sketchiness of Mohammed’s reputation in the ears of the general community, and from there it had spread to her village of Chifumpa. Or maybe part of his reputation stemmed from how he himself had managed to push his fingers into a few of the Mumbwa Muslim community’s pies. This was no mean feat, given the close knit nature of that community, so tight knit, that the locals joked that they showed signs of in-breeding.
Precious also knew of his reputation, like thaqt of some of the other extremely wealthy Muslims of Zambia, that he had a predilection for hunting. As such he had a controlling interest in some of the more productive hunting concessions across the country, particularly in the east. Rumor also had it that his quota of trophy animals was higher than most. That as a result certain politicians appeared better fed than usual, and their wives wore more extravagant jewelry.
On at least one occasion Precious over-heard a conversation between conservation minded locals to this effect. That when the whole country was closed to the hunting of big male lions, that was not always the case for some of Mohammed’s more prestigious Middle East customers.
A few days earlier, Precious had stood still under the roof of the chitenge, where she had been doing a final sweeping of its tiled floor. From there she had watched the arrival of the guests. Almost unheralded by the quiet purring of their engines, the two dark, sleek, and mud splattered land-cruisers pulled to a halt across the lawn from the chitenge.
The quietness of their arrivel meant that the waitress welcoming committee needed to scramble to get out in time and sing and clap hands. ,
Precious looked on as the guest slowly stepped out of the air-conditioning of their SUV cabs into the summer humidity. Each was offered a glass of cool juice held out on a tray by one of the maidens, as another held a tray with warm hand tells intended to wipe away any sweatiness the guests may have had on their brows after their long journey.
Later, when Precious let her mind replay the scene, she realized that the personalities of each of them was obvious almost from the moment that they stepped forth.
There were only four of them.
Two men in the first vehicle and two women in the second.
The two men were almost equally tall in stature, with the one slightly shorter, only because his age seem to cause him stoop forward slightly more than the other. They also shared a certain austerity of their physiques, but that of the older man brought to mind the drive brittleness of the elephant grass in winter, whereas with the other, it was the scavenging thinness of a village peasant’s dog.
The two women contrasted sharply with the men, despite one of the women being almost as tall as they. But the slenderness of her figure did not imbue the onlooker with a sense of austerity, as did that of the men. Maybe it was because in contrast to them there was no spareness in her movements. She was hardly ever still, and seem to be quick to laugh and of an effusive personality. Whereas both men handed back there empty glasses and the hand towels with barely a nod of thanks, the tall woman loudly expressed her appreciation, ‘Oh, Darling, that was just what I needed!’ while at the same time she gave each of the surprised waitresses a wide armed hug, before twisting away with the swing of wide hips and a trailing sweep of an arm and leg, almost like that of a ballerina.
The other woman, as dark as the bark of the Mukwa tree, and as full bodied, was not nearly as effusive as her companion, but she still smiled broadly and gave a small curtsey of thanks as she handed back her spent wares. She was by far the shortest of them all, her head reaching not much above the shoulders of the others.
The initial diffidence with which the two men treated the waitresses was a portent of their attitude not only to the waitresses but to the entire lodge staff. It did not seem as though this was an affected attitude, rather than a way of life for them.
The pair had an expectation of a high, almost craven level of service from the staff, but with a minimal level of their need to reciprocate with personal pleasantries. In some ways they reminded her of a pair of high priests of an esoteric religion, who have a presumption of preordained entitlement, while all the rest of the devotees are relegated to the rank of untouchables.
From Precious’s perspective this was not particularly irksome, as she did not need to interact with them personally as did the servers during meals. On quite a few other occasions she had delt with the arrogance and bad behavior of a client. It took all types, and sometimes the rich who could afford to stay at high-end lodges such as this, had not always earned their wealth by being polite and nice to others.
The only issue that really bothered precious was how the slightly younger of the two elder men made no effort to hide the way his eyes closely followed the figures of hers and the other waitress’s as they moved around the chitenge. He would let his gaze prod and poke into their ribs and rump as if they were pieces of pork to be purchased for the unclean.
On the other hand, the most ameliorating factor in having to deal with the men’s demeanor was the effusive happiness and sense of fun that the two woman brought to their interactions with each other and the staff.
Precious was fascinated with the lovely tattoo on the dark woman’s shoulders and arms. It had an immediate effect on her latent obsession for beautiful shapes and colors with which to adorn the human figure. Ever since first flipping through the pages of that Vogue magazine as a child she had been captivated with how women adorn themselves. Clothing, haberdashery, jewelry and trinkets were all grist for her minds mill, but never had she considered the skin as a medium on which to express artistry.
The extroverted personality of the tall fair-haired woman continued as she had from the moment she arrived. Her laughter and the loud extravagance of her voice constantly filled the air and atmosphere surrounding her. To begin with it seemed that her shows of pleasure and appreciation were artificially exaggerated, but as the days wore on, and her behavior continued unabated, its effect was infectious, the waitresses also began to smile and laugh in response, and the tension that always existed when the two men, especially the thin lipped Mustafa was around, was quickly dissipated by her obvious love of life, and why not attitude towards it.
According to Everett his guide, Mustafa had asked to stop at Allen’s hunting camp on his first boat trip up-river, and had immediately struck up a friendly relationship with the two Russians, who were still there. They in turn had offered to have him join them on some of their fishing and hunting forays.
Everett had shaken his head when he described to precious the on-going’s, saying that he could not understand why this strict Muslim would find two alcoholic Russians such good company, while back at the Lodge, he would not allow alcohol to be served when he was present.
It was this ban on alcohol which Precious could see was the only thing able to put a dent in Laurens bubbliness.
Each time in the late afternoon when Lauren sat enjoying a gin and tonic on the cantilevered deck out over the river, and one of the staff would request that she take her drink elsewhere, because Mustafa was on his way back to camp, Precious noticed that she would scowl and muttered to herself and then flaunts off to the chalet she shared with her dark friend. Once there she would finish her drink, and even order another one from the bar, which would be surreptitiously brought to the chalet.
‘Yes’, Precious heard her say to Narina, ‘I can respect your father’s religious sensibilities, but at the end of the day I am out here to celebrate with you. We came out here to get away from it all and enjoy our freedom, like we used to do in the old days. And with respect to your father, it bugs me that I have to be told how I must celebrate it!’
‘Yes, I agree, Narina would reply in an attempt to defend her father, ‘but he is the one out here and we are his guests.’
‘So what, lets transfer to another lodge. I hear that there are some further downriver.
And what about the hunting camp up-river? I can afford it. I got a good settlement out of my ex-husband.’
Precious smiled as she heard Lauren loud voice continue, ‘Maybe I could even book a hunt and shoot a baboon while we are there and pretend it is my ex’
‘The Lord only knows!’ she had exclaimed, ‘It would provide some excitement. And you and I darling, need some of that old buzz back in our lives!’
Lauren was seated on the porch of the thatch roofed chalet she shared with Narina. It was the last of the four chalets tucked beneath some of the large trees and the slashed grass, before the park like appearance of its surroundings blended into the longer grass of the natural dambo which stretched half a kilometer up River towards the campsite, where she knew Moses would probably be preparing his dinner.
Precious could see from the expression on her face that she was still seething with anger, even though she was leaning back in one of the padded wicker chairs with her feet crossed up on a coffee table.
On the table was an empty glass of gin and tonic, and the picked-at remnants of her dinner, which Precious earlier had served.
The reason for the ‘room service’ was that ‘Lauren -has-a-bad headache,’ and she needed a break from socializing at dinner in the chitenge.
It was an unusually warm summer evening, despite their having been a late afternoon thunderstorm.
Lauren uncrossed her long athletic legs and lifted her feet off the table as precious stepped up the low treads from the pathway.
She still wore her afternoon garb, despite the presence of a few mosquito’s who’s tiny erratic flight was reflected in the light of the overhead bulb as the insects made forays on her elbows and ankles.
Precious noticed a ‘stick’ of peaceful- sleep insect repellent on the floor next to her chair, so maybe that was why she had not changed into long pants and long sleeves.
Lauren was wearing a pair of short cut, loose denim pants, with an old faded tank top to sparsely cover the shapelyness of her upper body. Precious had become aware of the growing tension between the guests in the camp. This was the tension betwen Lauren and her friends father, and even betwen Lauren and Narina, as she was caught betwen her head strong friend and her ‘old-fashioned’ father. Precious guessed thatLaurens ‘immodest’ attire may have been more motivated to annoy the aesetic elder muslim man, than to provide the insects with expanses of smooth skin to feast upon.
Precious set down a replacement for the empty gin and tonic on the table and began to clear the dinner service.
‘Thank you, sweetie,’
Precious detected something maternal in the way Lauren pronounced ‘sweetie’.
This was strange seeing as there was very little else about Lauren which could be described as maternal. And even if she were, she could hardly have claimed motherhood advantage, seeing as she could not have been much older than Precious herself.
With her long hair pulled back in a pig-tail she looked young. But then she did not really know, because precious knew how much the Mzungu’s loved fashion and how much they spent on keeping themselves looking young.
There was a slight edge of jealousy and envy in precious his mind as these thoughts flitted past.
She replied with a ‘My pleasure’.
Then as she turned to head back down the steps…
‘No wait, don’t go.’ Lauren admonished, ‘it’s too quiet out here, Stay and lets’ talk a while.’
Precious was taken aback. Rarely did guests want to talk to any of the staff on a social level when not in the chitenge. Precious could understand this, because socializing close to the bedroom, which essentially was the purpose of each chalet, , hinted at an acceptance of a deeper level of intimacy.
Or maybe it was just that Lauren needed some moral support now that the adrenalin of her anger was abating.
Even in the kitchen everyone had heard Lauren’s angry protestations when earlier one of the waitresses rushed across to where she sat on the deck and asked her to surrender her G&T,
‘Madame, the master is arriving, and he does not want alcohol to be served here.’
This was just as a Land Cruiser slowly pulled into the parking spot across the foot bridge from the chitenge.
‘To hell with this hypocritic bullshit’ she had heard Lauren angrily expound.
Then after the other waitresses rushed out of the kitchen to see what was happening, they saw how Lauren took her drink in hand, and the baleful silence with which Mustafa glared at her as he and two other men stepped out of the vehicle.
The two other men were not nearly as put out. One of them even said ‘ Na Zdorovie’, which Lauren acknowledged as she strode deliberately past them. She had raised her glass towards him and answered his Russian with an English ‘Cheers’.
Then as she walked away over the small foot bridge towards the chalets, the younger of the two newcomers gave a wolf whistle loud enough for her to hear.
The waitresses hadn’t seen anything like it before, because the Mme. raised her right arm high in the air and clenched her fist with her middle finger pointed upright, as she shouted back, ‘Fuck off!’
‘Take a seat’. Lauren reached out to her right and took hold of the armrest of the other wicker chair next to hers, and pushed it towards where precious stood.
‘I have watched you working around here, and I wondered why you are still here.
Precious sat down, still rather stiff with her sense of social unease. ‘Why do you ask that I should still be here?’ I would have thought that it was obvious. Did you not drive all the way out from Lusaka?’
‘Yes we did, and I wish we could drive back as soon as possible. But what is that got to do with my question.’
Lauren stretched forward and picked up her G&T and took a long sip.
‘Madame,’ Precious also leaned forward and placed her elbows on her knees as she made aspire with the tips of her fingers, which she touched just under her chin, to give the impression that she was supporting the weight of her head. ‘Once you had left the city behind, apart from the token policewoman at the roadblocks, how many women did you see driving cars, or trucks, or even riding bicycles? How many women did you see wearing business suits, and carrying briefcases?’
Precious paused, ‘Did you go into the market in Mumbwa? No? If you did you would see thousands of women carrying babies on their backs, and baskets on their heads, and trudging kilometers back home, or waiting by the side of the road for a bus.’
Lauren look to cross her glass at Precious, ‘So?’ She asked, ‘what has that got to do with you?’
‘Madame, I come from a village which makes Mumbwa look like a sparkling hive of modernity.’
‘So for me, this job here at the Lodge is special, because it allows me to escape from my village, and the sort of life that is expected of me. A life that would otherwise be forced on me.’
Lauren looked at Precious in silence for a while before she started speaking again.
‘Firstly, I have noticed that you are older than the other girls, and I understand Africa. So I’m curious. Do you have an enlightened husband who will allow you to work away from home?
But that is not the only thing that I have noticed.
Also I have noticed the little necklace of snail shells that you where, and how you braid your hair twisted up onto your head like Cleopatra. It is so different and eye-catchingly stunning.
Then the other day when I walked back behind the area of the kitchen, I saw that you were not wearing your uniform. Instead you were wearing a beautiful dress, and I wondered where you got it.’
Precious smiled back at Lauren, ‘Madame, No I am not married, and I made the dress. It is what I want to do with my life, and why I am here. This place and this job is my only escape from the village. Maybe one day I will find a client who is young and unmarried and will take me away from here.’
Lauren made a dismissive motion with a hand, ‘Really?’ She stated incredulously, ‘Do you really think that some prints will carry you away?’
‘Yes!’ Precious replied with slight annoyance at Lauren’s dismissive tone, Two years ago there was a waitress here, Melody. And a young man from Croatia was here, and she is now married to him.’
‘But I agree with you, I am not stupid. Putting all my hopes in finding a man to take me away is not very realistic. The odds of it happening here twice are slim. And even if it does, the chances of my getting to pursue my dreams by marrying a foreigner, are even less likely.
Yes, Melody found her Croatian. But it was unusual that a young single man should be here,
Most of the guests are at least middle aged. And those that are young are often couples that are here on their honeymoons. That is why I need to be realistic, finding a mate is a numbers game. There are not enough young, handsome, rich and single men here at the camp.’
Precious gave a little giggle to accent the silliness of a proposition like that.
‘To tell you the truth,’ she continued, ‘At times I have been so desperate to get things going I even contemplated entering Europe illegaly. I had read about the boat people, and how they seldom get sent back to Africa. Of course I was not thinking of being a real boat person through Libya, and ending up in an Italian holding camp on Lampadusa Island.
I thought maybe I could go and visit Melody in Croatia, and then work my way West and end up in France or the UK. Maybe I could find someone to marry and get a residence permit.
But then Melody and her man returned to Africa. Her man had not been a rich client, he was a researcher who stayed here for a while. And so they have little money, and she was not accepted back in Croatia. It is funny actually, sometimes they say that despite all the ‘rainbow nation’ stuff down south, with the end of apartheid, and majority rule and all the rest of it, that racism is still alive and well in Africa, black racism towards white. And there is a lot of truth to it. Just like there is tension between the black tribes, there will always be racism.
But despite the racism here Melody and her man decided to return to Zambia, because we are more forgiving here, and the racism is not as cruel.
When all is said and done, the Zambian people are more magnanimous. They are more comfortable, with one of their daughters marrying a white man. They have been doing it for hundreds of years.
From wht Melody tells me, the real bad racists are the ex -communists. You do not see the boat people from Africa heading over to Albania, or Croatia, or Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia, let alone China, heaven forbid.
. . But I digress.’
Precious took a deepbreath.
‘You see my job here, and the success of this lodge is very important to me.’
‘Why is that if you want to get away from here’ Lauren asked.
‘Madame, My passion is designing adornment. I love clothing, jewelry, make-up, everything…, I want to be a designer.
I want to be the African equivalent of Coco Chanel or Alexander McQueenn. But now at my age, and with no money, I will probably never get that far. I will never get to the dream of being close to the big fashion centers.
So I have set realistic goals to get away from my village. It is not so much the village itself but the way of life that it represents.
If I can get as far as Lusaka, or Livingston with all its tourists visiting the Victoria Falls, and be able to afford to live there, it would be enough.
So now my plan is to convince Idaa, and the owners of this lodge to set up a gift shop. If that is the case I will be able to get the women in the village to make my designs. Dresses, shirts, skirts and trinkets and jewelry.
The salaries of a maid at the Lodge are not enough for me to go places. But if I can make a lot of the stuff they sell in a gift shop I can.
Lauren had just about drained her gin and tonic by the time Precious finished explaining her dreams and desires.
She spoke slowly, ‘Yes I will agree with you that Africa is starting to be a more racially accepting continent. Recently I have been dating an Indian man down in Cape Town, and he has been a dream to be around, compared to my ex-husband.’
She paused, ‘But there is a difference between social and personal racism, and sometimes people mistake it all for just outright sexism, like with this old-fashioned bastard,we have here at the camp right now. Unfortunately he is the father of my best friend, and it is through her that I met my current boyfriend. So there are some bad ones and some goodd ones.’
Lauren took the last sip of her drink and set the glass down.
It is interesting you brought up about the ex-communists, seems like our bastard has found some ex-communist friends.
I wonder what they are like?’ she mused almost to herself.
Precious had sat up in a small jolt of excitement.
‘Did you say you are from Cape Town?’
‘Yes.’ Lauren glanced at Precious.
Oh, Madame, I have never been there. But I have seen the ppictures. It seems a magical place.’
‘What does the Madame do there?
Lauren looked closely across at the African girl sitting opposite her before answering.
‘I own one of the biggest yarn and cloth import-export companies in South Africa.’
Lauren picked up her empty glass and spoke again. ‘First of all stop calling me Madame, my name is Lauren. And why don’t you go and fetch me another of these and one for yourself, and while you are about it put it on the tab of that old bastard or one of his ex-communist friends.’
‘Then come back here and let’s talk a bit more about that beautiful dress that you made.’