23 – The Book of Gideon (guests)

23 –       Guests

Precious paused her sweeping of the chitenge tiled floor. From under its roof she watched the arrival of two dark sleek Landcruisers. Virtually unheralded by the quiet purring of their engines, the dust covered vehicles pulled to a halt in the small gravel parking area across from where she stood.

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 four occupants slowly stepped into the afternoon heat and humidity from the air-conditioning of their vehicles. Each was offered a glass of cool juice on a tray, while warm hand towels, to wipe away any sweat, were offered on another.

It was the welcoming ritual to make guests feel special.

Later, playing the scene in her mind, Precious realized that the personalities and relationships of each of the guests was apparent from the moment they stepped forth.

There were four of them. Morese had briefed the staff before the guests arrived. The two men

 in the first vehicle were brothers. One of the women was an adult daughter, and she was accompanied by a friend.

The brothers were of equal height, although one appeared to be shorter, due to an age

related tendency to stoop forward.

Precious noted they shared an austerity of physique,. The older brought to her mind the dry brittleness of the grass in winter, whereas the younger had the scavenging thinness of a village dog.

The women contrasted sharply with the men, despite one of them being as tall . There was no spareness in her movement. She was never still, was quick to laugh, and oozed a happy boisterous spontaneity.

The men handed back there empty glasses and the hand towels with barely a nod of thanks, whereas the tall woman loudly expressed her appreciation,

“Oh, Darling, that was just what I needed!”

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 two step swing 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 in the group, 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 to the entire lodge staff. It didn’t appear to be affected, rather a habit. The pair had an expectation of a high, almost craven level of service, but with a minimal level of a need to reciprocate with pleasantries. In some ways they reminded Precious of some esoteric high priests with their presumption of preordained entitlement,.

From her perspective this wasn’t particularly irksome, as she didn’t need to interact with them. Being mostly part of the cleaning staff seldom had Precious needed to tolerate the arrogance and bad behavior of clients. It took all types. Sometimes the rich who could afford to stay at high-end lodges hadn’t earned their wealth by being polite.

What bothered precious was how the younger of the brothers made scant effort to hide the way his eyes closely followed the figures of the female staff. His gaze prodded and poked as if they were pork for the unclean. But, the ameliorating factor of the group as a whole was the uninhibited 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 tints.. adorning the figure. It was new to her. The adornment captivated her. It was grist for her minds mill. She had never considered the skin as a canvas for the expression of artistry. What made the tattoo even more interesting was its bearer being the daughter of the younger brother. 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’s beliefs, and if so what did it say about the daughter’s character.

The extroverted personality of the tall fair-haired woman didn’t fade. 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 few days the guests settled in and the staff adjusted their service as was needed to provide a classy experience.

Precious detected another unexpected twist in a conversation with Everett, one of the lodge’s guides. He said Mustafa 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 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 more tolerant older brother, Muhammad, returned to Lusaka after only three days.

It was this veto, Precious noticed, was the only thing which put a dent in the tall blonde Lauren’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, she would scowl and muttered to herself before flouncing off to her chalet. She would sit simmering on its deck. She would finish her drink, then order another from the bar, to be surreptitiously brought to the chalet.

“Yes”, Precious heard her say to Narina, her 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 the crap, 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!”

The short dark Narina would agree in an attempt to defend her father and add “But 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-stream? I can afford it. I got a good divorce settlement.”

Lauren’s indignant voice continued, “Maybe I could book a hunt and shoot a baboon while we are there, and pretend it is my ex!”

Listening from a distance, Precious’s smile broadened into a giggle which joined Narina’s.

“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!”

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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 hwas muffled by the soft grass in the middle of the road, where it had been clipped short by the sumps of the vehicles.

Probably his guard was lowered due to fatigue mixed with the distracting snorts of the hippos. The big beasts were inordinately noisy, grunting and squealing at each other, with a good deal of splashing about. A cow was in heat, and the dominant bull was being challenged by an aroused subordinate.

Moses had been following difficult tracks for some time. Now he was in good spirits, his hunch had paid off.

he had had been seeking the spiritual water hole he knew must exist. Being of Africa, he was intimate with its ways. Like animals must return to the pools to drink, so would a nganga return to a 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 the lands inspiring places, prepared long before man developed his vanity. It was the humble secret nature of these sites which gave them their authority, by being set amongst nature’s special places. For the “holy” communion of the ngangas there was no need for the pompous showmanship of a cathedral.

 Moses had searched for natures” equivalent of a church steeple, in the form of a rise of an imposing hill, or a cliff face, or the conference of big rivers. The ngangas alter he saught would not be far away.

His search was made easier by the old mystery man himself, when like a leopard defending its den, the grey haired man had angrily waved him and Gidi away, from atop just such a hill at the confluence of the Lunga and Kafue rivers.

The cave was set back from the river, half way up a long high ridge that was like a ripple in the earth’s skin, forced up by the pinch of the two rivers as they met. It was neither deep nor imposing, but it was adequate. Its unique suitability had been recognized by ngangas for thousands of years. 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.

Assuming that his target would be as proficient as himself when it came to Bush craft, Moses was careful. If alerted in the slightest, the mystery man would be wary, making it difficult, if not impossible to track him down. Moses returned to check the cave each day, using all his skill to disguise his presence. Eventually his patience paid off, he found fresh 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 when its tail is pulled.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed, “We didn’t mean to scare you.”

Moses looked up rather sheepishly. “Yes you did give me a jump!”

A tall woman with a wide smile was looking at him curiously.

“When we go on a game drive, or walk past,” she said, “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 Narina.”

The tall woman shook her head to loosen her hair then threaded the pony-tail of her long blonde hair back through the opening of her baseball cap. “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 pleasant 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 noticed how the woman’s wide smiling lips had moved, seemingly on the brink of a follow-up question, but he interrupted .

“That is another story for another time.”

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?”

Now it was the dark girl looking at him with quiet intensity, weighing him up. He noted that it wasn’t only her speech and manner that contrasted with her friend, it was also her appearance. Where her friend was a long legged race horse, she was a dressage pony. Where her friend was fair, she was dark with eyes and coal black hair that accented the difference.

Her deep copper skin was as smooth as a chamois and where her friend was loud, she was quiet.

“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 pair.

“Is this a family holiday?”

“We are celebrating our divorces!” The blonde stated with emphatic satisfaction, , as a hint of opposition flitted across the face of her companion.

“Well at least I am!” the leggy one raised her hands above her head, making the V for victory sign with both hands, and giving a little skip of pleasure. “Free at last!!”

“Narina 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.”

The dark woman surreptitiously rolled her eyes.

Slightly taken aback Moses chuckled. “That is the strangest reason I have ever heard for a Safari.”

He couldn’t help asking, “Did you hope to meet Tarzan?”

“Maybe,” she replied. Then indicating the dark girl, ”We have known each other for ever. Since high school actually. We have always mirror the events in our lives. So why not celebrate like this?”

She had picked up on his jest. She winked at him, “Too bad in the bible Moses roamed in the desert and not the jungle. Otherwise he would have met Tarzan. Religion would be more fun if he had. Especially if Jane was around.”

Moses suddenly felt the old Jesuit in him niggle an uneasyness at the flirtiness of her religious disrespect.

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 vague respect. A smile even flickered across the dark woman’s face as Lauren bubbled forth. “It was recently that narina returned 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 as she looked around at the two tents in the campsite.

So! Are you going to let a woman stand around, or will you be a gentleman and offer us a place to sit?

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 late afternoons, where the sound of the rippling water mingled with that of the zephyr rustling the leaves.

Their presence distracted the hippos, who with their ears and snouts barely above the water, eyed the 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, she spoke lightly, “The best part has been being with Narina, 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 hospitality has been fantastic. The location, the food, the showers, the beds, and the  guiding. But we are 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 Narina 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. 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 so 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.”

Looking at her friend Lauren saught support again.

She winked at him, “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 taken aback. He was unaccustomed to forwardness on the part of women. The conservative side of his character didn’t feel comfortable with quick barroom banter, or sparring with raunchy witticisms from women.

Ignoring the comment he turned to Narina. Her reticence strummed some harmonious cord in his mind.

“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?” asked Lauren.

“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 at a time, 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.”

“I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee.” Narina spoke quietly, but as she did she gazed intently at Moses. He was unsure if she was communicating something. Somewher deep within him a chord of response quivered.

Lauren stood and linked her fingers in a dovetail, then pushing her arms out in front as she stretched back on tiptoes, she 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.””

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Narina swiveled in her chair to peer over her shoulder to watch how Moses carefully duct under the lianas drooping from the 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.

Settling into his camp chair Moses set the paraphernalia on the sand at his feet.

I apologize for the lack of elegance, but how do you prefer your coffee?” His glance caught her coy smile, which was returned with a shy one of his own..

“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.

The hippos snorted 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, “I borrowed that description from my friend Gidi.

“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.”

Moses leaned back in his chair and they sat in silence for a while.

Having gotten over their nervousness the hippos resumed their squabbling. They were no longer so concerned with the presence of the two people sitting on the sandbar at the river bank. The scent of the cow’s receptivity was more stimulating than their suspicion of the human presence.

“It sounds like you and your friend work well together. Where is he at the moment? she kicked at the sand with the heel of her shoe.

“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 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.”

Narina turned her head to follow a flare up between two of the hippos, but even so she felt his intense gaze studying her.

That gaze carefully noted 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. They followed the fine floral tattoos on the amber of her skin, which 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 wildlife sanctuaries in the world.

Some of these fishermen also engage in illicit poaching, done while they are in the park legally.”

But mostly this is 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 leading along the Lunga River, from its confluence with the Kafue River, for 80kilometers north.

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 making the picture more complex.”

He sighed, “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 many 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 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 dearest father is wonderful, 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 continuing. “My father is not used to women who react badly to men who want them to remain in the background. She took a deep breath. “Lauren is one of those independent sorts, as her husband 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 smiled. “He didn’t give it to me. My mother did. He was away when I was born and he came back too late to interfere. I am named after a bird.

In the late 1700’s a French Naturallist named the bird after his beautiful mulatto Hottentot mistress.”

Standing holding their empty mugs in each hand Moses said quietly, “I’ve read about Le Valliant and the birds he named, and the romance of Narina fits you perfectly. The bird you are named after is beautiful. The Narina Trogon is 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!”

Moses nodded.

“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”.