Chapter 21: Guests
Earlier, Precious 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. Virtually unheralded by the quiet purring of their engines, the two dark, sleek, and mud splattered land-cruisers pulled to a halt in the small gravel parking area on the other side of the lawn.
The quietness of their arrival meant that the waitress welcoming committee needed to scramble to form up in time to sing and clap hands.
Precious looked on as the guest slowly stepped out of the air-conditioning of their vehicles into the afternoon humidity. Each was offered a glass of cool juice on a tray held by one of the maidens, while another held a tray with warm hand tells intended to wipe away any sweat the guests may have had on their brows after their journey.
Later, when Precious let her mind replay the scene, she realized that the personalities of each of the guests was apparent from the moment that they stepped forth.
There were only four of them.
Two brothers in the first vehicle and an adult daughter and her friend in the second.
The brothers were of equal height, with the one appearing to be shorter, only because his age caused him to stoop forward more than the other. They shared a certain austerity of physique,. That of the older brought to mind the dry brittleness of the grass in winter, whereas with the younger, it was the scavenging thinness of a village dog.
The two women contrasted sharply with the men, despite one of them being as tall as they. In her case, her long figure didn’t imbue an onlooker with a sense of austerity. In contrast to the men there was no spareness in her movements. She was never still, was quick to laugh and oozed 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!” At the same time she gave each of the surprised waitresses a wide armed hug, before twisting away with a swing of her wide hips and a trailing sweep of an arm and leg, like that of a flamenco dancer.
The other woman, as dark as an early dawn, with a figure as lithesome as a cat, wasn’t as effusive as her companion. Nevertheless she smiled broadly and gave a curtsey of thanks as she handed back her spent wares. She was the shortest, 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 them but to the entire lodge staff. It did not appear to be affected, rather a habit. The pair had an expectation of a high, almost craven level of service from the staff, but with a minimal level of any need to reciprocate with pleasantries. In some ways they reminded Precious of some esoteric religions high priests, with a presumption of preordained entitlement,.
From her perspective this wasn’t particularly irksome, as she didn’t need to interact with them personally as did the meal servers. Seldom had Precious needed to tolerate the arrogance and bad behavior of a client. It took all types,. Sometimes the rich who could afford to stay at high-end lodges hadn’t earned their wealth by being polite to others.
What bothered precious was how the younger of the two elder men made scant effort to hide the way his eyes closely followed the figures of the female staff. His gaze prodded and poked into their ribs and rump as if they were pork to be purchased for the unclean.
On the other hand, the ameliorating factor in dealing with the men was the effusive happiness and sense of fun that the woman brought to their interactions with each other and the staff.
Precious was fascinated by the lovely tattoo on the dark daughter’s shoulders and arms. It had an immediate effect on her latent obsession for beautiful shapes and colors to adorn the human figure.
Ever since flipping through the pages of that Vogue magazine she had been captivated with how women adorn themselves. Clothing, jewelry and trinkets were all grist for her minds mill, but never had she considered the skin as a canvas for the expression of artistry.
What made the tattoo interesting was it turned out that its bearer was the daughter of the younger of the brothers. His rigorous observance of a prayer schedule showed him to be an observant Muslim. Precious wondered if the tattoo was there in spite of the father.
The extroverted personality of the tall fair-haired woman didn’t fade. It persisted from the moment she arrived. Her laughter and the loud extravagance of her voice constantly filled the air. Initially her pleasure and appreciation appeared exaggerated, but as the days wore on, and her behavior continued unabated, its effect was infectious. The waitresses began to genuinely smile and laugh in response. The tension when the two men, especially the thin lipped younger Mustafa was around, was quickly dissipated by her obvious love of life, and why not attitude towards it.
Overall during the next day or two the guests settled in and the staff adjusted their service as was needed to provide a classy experience.
According to Everett his guide, Mustafa, the younger brother, asked to stop at Allen’s hunting camp on his first boat trip up-river. He had immediately struck up a friendly relationship with the two Russians, who were still there. They in turn had offered to host him on some of their forays.
Everett had shaken his head when he described to precious the on-goings. He couldn’t 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. His insistence had become more pronounced after his older brother , Muhammad, who was more tolerant, and to whom he deferred, left the group to return to Lusaka for some reason..
It was this veto, Precious noticed which put a dent in the tall blonde woman’s bubbliness. In the late afternoon while she sat enjoying a gin and tonic on the riverside deck, and one of the staff would request that she take her drink elsewhere, because Mustafa was on his way, The tall blonde would scowl and muttered to herself. She would flounce off to her chalet, to sit simmering on its deck. Once there she would finish her drink, then order another from the bar, which would be surreptitiously brought to the chalet.
“Yes”, Precious heard her say to her short dark companion, “I can respect your father’s religious sensibilities, but 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. With respect to your father, it bugs me that I have to be told how I must celebrate it!”
“I agree, the dark woman would reply in an attempt to defend her father, “but here we are his guests.”
“So what, lets transfer to another lodge. I hear that there are some further downriver. 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 the blonde’s 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!”
It was not often that he was caught off guard. Moses was so deep in his thoughts he didn’t noticed the footsteps. Admittedly later he saw that the two women’s approach had been muffled by the soft grass in the middle of the road, where it was clipped short by the sumps of the vehicles when their wheels sunk into the ruts.
Probably his guard was lowered due to his physical tiredness, combined with the distraction of the sounds of the hippos. The big beasts were inordinately noisy, grunting and squealing at each other, with a good deal of splashing about. Their raucousness was due to a cow in heat, and the dominant bull being challenged by an aroused subordinate.
Moses tiredness stemmed from having the relentless strain of following difficult tracks for three days.
However, he was in good spirits, his hunch had paid off.
Prior to that, each day for almost a week he had saught the spiritual “water-hole” he knew must exist.
Being of Africa, he was intimate with its ways. Like its animals must return to the pools to drink their life sustaining water, so too would a nganga need to return to spirit loci where their witch-power could be recharged by communion with their gods.
Africa’s priests didn’t need to stand before the altars of grand cathedrals. They were drawn to its inspiring places, prepared long before man developed his vanity. It was the humility and secret nature of these locations which gave them their authority and genuineness, by being set amongst nature’s special places. The ngangas preferred their “holy” communion to be done alone. There was no need for the pompous showmanship of a cathedral.
Moses needed to search for natures” equivalent of a church steeple, in the form of a rise of an imposing hill, a cliff face, or the conference of big rivers. Then, what he sought, a ngangas alter would not be far away.
His search was made easier by the old mystery man himself, when like a leopard defending its den, he angrily waved him and Gidi away, from atop just such a hill at the confluence of the Lunga and Kafue rivers.
Moses’s search began when Gidi left for South Africa, and finally he found it.
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. Its unique suitability had obviously been recognized by ngangas for thousands of years, for on its walls were the faint scratched outlines of ancient totems.
The tracks of the mystery man had returned to this spot many times. It was where he communed with his spirits.
If there was some focus to any of the witchcraft hovering over the region, it would be anchored in this cave.
Moses returned to check the caves location day after day.
He used all his skill, learned over the years to disguise his own tracks. He assumed that his target was as proficient as he in Bush craft; if alerted in the slightest, mystery man would be wary of revealing his movements. It would be difficult, if not impossible to follow and track him down.
Eventually Moses’s patience paid off, three days earlier he found a fresh set of tracks.
But now, it was the sound of her voice which startled him, causing Moses to swing around with the speed of a stalking cat who has 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 jump!”
“When we go on a game drive, or walk past, we notice your tents. We are curious to see who lives here.” She paused. “By the way, I am Lauren, and this is my friend Birdie.”
It was the tall blonde woman who spoke. “If you don’t mind my asking, what is your name?”
“Moses!” he replied.
“That’s an old fashioned name, she said, “very biblical.”
Moses smiled, surprised at her effrontery. “Yes, it is. I guess I deserve it more than you imagine. “
Detecting the quizzical look on her long but not unpleasant face he fanned her curiosity.
“I began life being abandoned on the bank of a river. Those who raised me, being missionaries, didn’t 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 spoke again. “We have been here for four days, There’s only so much game viewing and sitting around that one can take. If it was up to me I would explore further afield.” She gave a frustrated flick of her hands.
“How much longer will you 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!” The sooty haired girl spoke for the first time. She stood still beside her friend. The stillness contrasted with the animated ernestness of the tall blond woman.
As the dark girl looked at him with quiet intensity, weighing him up in some way, it wasn’t 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 small thoroughbred. Where her friend was fair, she was dark, made more so by hair and eyes that were coal black, and her deep copper skin as unblemished as a chamois. Where her friend was tall, she was short.
“Can I ask what may affect your father’s decision?” Moses queried politely.
“You will have to ask him,” replied the dark one.
He detected a certain tension between the two women on this point.
“Is this a family holiday?”
The tall one jumped back into the conversation. “We are celebrating our divorces!”
She stated this with a tone of emphatic satisfaction, as the dark one made a sour face and nodded in grudging agreement.
“Well at least I am!” the tall woman raised her hands high above her head, making the V for victory sign with both hands, and giving a little skip of pleasure. “Free at last! Free at last!”
“Birdie here has been free for a year, she continued, “and has forgotten some of the pleasure of being foot loose and fancy free. But I think her status is fresh enough for us to celebrate.”
Moses noted how the dark woman surreptitiously rolled her eyes.
Slightly taken aback he raised his eyebrows. “That is the strangest reason I have ever heard fora 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 ever. Since high school actually. For some reason we have always mirror the events in our lives. So why not celebrate like this?” she asked rhetorically.
Moses detected her sense of humor when she winked at him, “Too bad Tarzan is not a biblical name, or that Moses did not spend time in the jungle.”
He was uneasy with the flirtiness in her voice.
He shrugged, “There is more to the story of Moses than that of Tarzan. I am glad that I am Moses’s namesake, and not Tarzan’s.”
Lauren laughed 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. “It was recently that Birdie returned to Africa from some godforsaken South American place, where she had been dragged by her latin ‘ex’. So we decided to join her father, who is out here on business.
“Congratulations!” Moses raised his palm to meet Laurens in a high five.
So! Are you going to let a woman stand around, 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, 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 only need a gentlemanly deck chair and a good drink.”
OK hang on a moment, I think that my partner has an extra seat. He is not here right now.
Moses gathered three folding camping 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 summer late afternoons, where the sound of the rippling water mingled with that of the light breeze rustling the leaves. Their presence distracted the hippos, they quite an down. Now, with their ears and snouts barely 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.
“How have you found your stay at the lodge?”
Settling into one of the chairs and stretching out her long legs, Lauren spoke lightly, “The best part has been being with Birdie, catching up. It has been ages since we were able to really laugh at some of the stuff in our past. Over the years we have kept in contact, 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 via email.”
The dark girl nodded an agreement.
“Other than that, the hospitality has been fantastic. 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 for some affirmation. 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 didn’t spend much time there on the way out here. They say it is booming these days.
“So where do you usually spend your time, where is home?” Moses asked.
“Ohh, 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 spent 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 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 involved with anti-poaching. “
She changed her tone to give a staged emphasis, “THAT sounds so exciting!”
“Have you caught any poachers, and do you have to do wild chases like they show on the Discovery channels?”
Moses shrugged, “Well actually I have not been here for long. I am here to help my friend get to the bottom of some 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 patrol, I work alone. I track people, find out what they have been doing.
Lauren looked at him imploringly, “Oh, why not, I”m bored, we’ve done all the game drives that they can offer, and we been up and down the river on the boat. 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 didn’t feel comfortable with participating in quick barroom banter, and sparring with raunchy witticisms from women.
Ignoring the comment he turned to the dark girl, the quiet one. She had an air of reticence. There was something that strummed some harmonious cord in his mind which he never knew existed.
“It sounds like both of you are bored.”
“Yes!” Lauren replied vehemently.
He stood up and turned to ask, “Can I offer you a cup of coffee.”
“How about a gin and tonic?” retorted Lauren.
“I”m afraid that both my friend Gidi and I don’t drink alcohol. All I can offer is coffee, tea or I think there may be some cokes that Gidi has stashed in his tent. Would you like me to look?”
“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 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 struggle.”
The dog girl nodded her head, “I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee.”
Lauren stood and linked her fingers in a dovetail, and pushed her arms out infront of her 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 G&T.””
The dark-haired woman swivelled in her chair to peer over her shoulder to watch how Moses carefully duct under the lianas drooping from the thick foliage of the trees. In one 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 sugar scrunched between them.
Moses settled into his deck chair, and set the paraphernalia on the river sand at his feet.
I apologize for the lack of elegance, but how do you prefer your coffee?” he smiled .
“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.”
He handed her a mug.
Then she looked on as he poured his own.
“Please don’t complain about the amount of sugar I take.” He looked up, “It is one of my bad habits. I prefer my coffee as black as sin, and strong enough to float a horseshoe. I also like it sweet, because then like life, it has 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. He took another sip and savored its taste.
“Now there is somebody who really loves his coffee, and loves it sweet. He as replaced his previous alcohol with a coffee addiction, not that he was not a caffeine addict before then. Apparently his grandmother gave him coffee in a bottle as a baby. So I guess he had no chance.”
Having relaxed, the hippos resumed their squabbling. They were no longer so concerned with 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 resumed.
“It sounds like you and your friend work well together. Where is he at the moment? She glanced at Moses.
“He went to south Africa to give a report to the people providing the funds for his training program. He has been away for a while, but should be back in the next week or so, so you 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 a short while, and I have concentrated on tracking people, to find out what they are doing. So I never really sat in on Gidi’s training sessions. From what I understand he is focusing on the pre-and post “Bang” procedures. These are as important as the interdictions, which get all the publicity.
Gidi describes it in a simple fashion, to make it a clear concept in the minds of the scout ranges. The “bang” is when a poacher kills an animal. This is the event that traditional anti-poaching efforts have concentrated their resources and efforts into preventing. But the pre-and post “bang” are often more important to the success of a anti-poaching strategy.
The pre-bang is in the field of how to develop intelligence networks and the gathering of actionable information. It is activity which is focused outside of the national park boundaries. For example, if it is a small scale operation, the poachers live in the villages surrounding the park. Everybody knows who they are. The effort is to find informers who will let the ranges know when the poachers 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 bel, 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 the vehicles bringing in strangers and taking out the goods. For this the rangers need to work with the police and even Interpol. How to develop rapid response liaison protocols is what Gidi focuses on here.
Then there’s the post “bang” operations. Zambia is a country which mostly operates within the rule of law. An anti-poaching operation is fundamentally a law enforcement activity. Once apprehended the poachers need to go through the justice system, which entails collection of evidence, and crime scene processing. There is also the preparation for trial. All this has been an often ignored aspect. It has resulted in a revolving door for the poachers. Often they are released with a slap on the wrist for lack of evidence.”
She turned her head to look away, as she followed a flare up between two of the hippos down river.
It was then that Moses allowed himself to look more carefully at the exquisite outline of her features and the silhouette 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 amber of her skin. They 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.
She turned back to look at Moses, “So what exactly do you do if your job is to track down people. Are you tracking the movements of poachers once they are in the park.?
“No, I’m not tracking poachers specifically. There is something else going on, which neither Gidi nor I can quite understand”
“What do you mean? Are other people entering the park? to do what?” she asked..
“Well the Kafue national Park is a huge area, over twenty two thousand square kilometers, and with the hunting concessions around it, there is sixty thousand square clicks of wilderness. It has an unusual history.”
Moses picked up a pebble and tossed it into the slowly flowing waters 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 tribesman 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 standing status quo, of, if you don’t mess 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 so far. He will figure it out.”
“You 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 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?”
The woman sat for a while before she replied. “I”m not sure. He has fingers in many pies. The woman in my father’s family, including myself, are 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.”
“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 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 stood and picked up the two mugs, “Your name is not what I would expect a father like yours to give his daughter!”
She smile back at him. “It isn’t. That is my nickname. Lauren gave it to me long ago, when we were at school together. I am named after a bird.
My name is Narina.”
In the late 1700’s a French Naturallist named the bird after his beautiful mulatto Hottentot mistress.”
Moses said quietly, “I’ve read about Le Valliant and the birds he named, and the romance of Narina fits you perfectly. The Narina Trogon is a beautiful bird,. They are very rare, but we have them here, the dense green habitat on the edge of the river is perfect for them.”
She smiled, “Oh, so you know your birds!”
“Well maybe you can show me one, she exclaimed. ” I have never seen a wild one.”
“And your father’s name?” Moses asked.
“His name is Mustafa,” she said, “Mustafa Beyh”.
(8th edit – 02/23/2021)