Monday, August 16, 2010

Things with teeth

I mentioned the 'Lowveld' in a previous post, and I think I shall tell you a bit more about it. Its a steamy, tropical area and its earlier nickname 'The white man's grave', and my personal nickname for it 'The Armpit of Africa', reflect the climate and tropical diseases one experiences there.

It lies at the foot of the Lebombo mountains near the borders with Swaziland and Mocambique: almost at sea level, but many miles from the sea. Malaria is common, and the Tsetse fly has to be controlled regularly to keep the area free of 'Sleeping sickness'. If you go to the doctor with a headache, you immediately get tested for malaria, bilharzia and Hepatitits B, especially if you have contact with irrigation water from the slow, muddy streams that meander across the red and green sugar cane and citrus infested plain. (Everything in the Lowveld is an infestation. Its that kind of place)

There are lots of historical monuments, and almost all of them are graves, and all of them bear the legend 'Died of Fever'. It used to be plain that settlers passed through with speed. Your oxen had a certain amount of days, and then they'd be dead of Sleeping Sickness. Louis Trichardt's trek ended there. They traveled from the Cape to the far North and then to the far East of the country and then 'Died of Fever' in the Lowveld.

Never before or since have I spent so much time in front of an air conditioner slathered with mosquito repellent. There's no swimming in the rivers. Apart from the legion of water-borne illnesses (including, on occasion, cholera) you may be exposing yourself to, there are more obvious dangers: crocodiles and hippopotami. Don't laugh - the hippo is a dangerous animal, despite its rather goofy looks and vegetarian habits.

Both of these animals are inclined to submerge in the impenetrable red murk that is a lowveld river. It might look empty - but don't bet on it! An English tourist once did. All they ever found were his clothes, neatly piled under a 'No Swimming' signboard that listed all the dangers (great and small) that the water concealed. He must have thought we were joking.

... and the snakes! You've never seen such monsters! Gaping-mouthed, rearing, spitting cobras are two a penny. On the whole, cobras aren't aggressive. I like the way one usually finds them heading off with alacrity - but sometimes one has them cornered without even realizing it. Once, while I was working in the garden, I bent to pick up the hose and startled a cobra who'd been sunning himself next to it. It headed straight for me and I actually jumped over that one, whilst yelling 'Snake! Nyoka!' as is the custom when one is found.

I liked the lowveld people: Swazis. On the whole, they're proud folk with strong values and very beautiful with their dark complexions and high cheekbones. They know it too, and take extra care with their appearance, more so than any other group I've worked with. Of course, there are always exceptions, as in the case of Robert who always managed to look ragged and unkempt, even in new clothes. I liked him too: there's a certain charm in a genuine reprobate. I wonder why? Do I see some element of myself there?

Today's pic: some cooling dew.


  1. I think I mentioned this before but before you I knew vertiually little about South Africa all I knew before was Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, & that playing Sun City was bad if you were an Amrican musician... I also new of the punk band the POP GUNS & their great tune Shock Time For Rock. I enjoy all the new aspects of South Africa that you bring to me!

  2. A gorgeous photo! The colors, composition, and water droplets are spectacular!
    I agree with Karl. The education you are giving on South Africa is fantastic. The best part is you write from the point of view of one who lives it and loves it.
    I worry when I hear how we are losing our jungles to progress. But then, I don't live near one.
    Our mosquitoes bring Niles virus to humans and heartworms to dogs. I smell the familiar odor of insecticide sprayed by the city and county trucks throughout the summer months. I taste it on my lips. That concerns me.

  3. Thanks, Karl and PAMO. I actually wrote it with Karl in mind - something he said before about it sounding like an interesting place - and it was, in a way.

    I find your completely different experiences and environment interesting too. All I know about the states is a smattering about politics and history and what one sees in movies (of which I watch very few anyway).

    I read a blog post about attending a baseball game (I think it was Isarael's) and it sounded 'alien'(?). Fascinating stuff.

    PAMO. Yes, you should be concerned. One of the few legal uses for DDT in this day and age is in the control of pathogen - carrying insects. I wonder what your municipality uses? If its a pyrathroid, most people can process it easily within 24 hrs, but DDT and organophospahtes are another matter.

  4. I agree with the previous comment about knowing very little about S.Africa. The amount of nature that you're exposed to is foreign to me. Over here in the big city, the closest I get to a cow is eating cheeseburgers.