Where do I belong?

Where do I belong? For me this is a fraught question, as it is for many migrants.

When the migrant ship Australis slowly manoeuvred out of Cape Town’s docks in December 1974 and set off for the open sea I stood on the deck and watched as the majestic Table Mountain, under the shadow of which I had been born, receded into the distance. I felt an enormous sense of relief and I vowed never to return. Then the mountain disappeared over the horizon and I felt as if I had escaped from a prison. I couldn’t stand the place, with its racist, authoritarian government and its ultra-conservative, pious Afrikaners, who had as much compassion for people of colour as a predator has for its prey.

I have now lived in Australia for more than sixty percent of my entire life, so this is clearly where I belong, right? The places of my youth have changed beyond recognition, so surely I now no longer belong there. And yet, I am not always sure where I really belong. The place where one has lived as a child and as a young person is indelibly engraved into one’s psyche, regardless of the passage of time. Its tendrils retain a firm hold over the years. And so it is with me.

What is it that binds us forever to the places of our youth? It is the landscapes, the shape of the trees, the native flowers and birds and animals, the smells. It is the accents and the unique local sense of humour of the people. Even after forty years away my heart still soars when I hear Cape Coloured people speak their distinctive Kaapse Afrikaans, or when I hear the clicking sounds of a black person speaking Xhosa or Zulu.

A few years ago I borrowed my brother’s car and drove along the road between Gordon’s Bay and Hangklip, near my home town of Somerset West. The road winds its way between the ocean on one side and steep mountains on the other. As a young man I went there nearly every weekend, having barbecues with friends or girlfriends, snorkelling and sunbaking.

I spotted some wild proteas on the slope of the mountain, near the road. When I stopped and walked up the slope I suddenly smelled the aroma of the fynbos, the local vegetation, and was overpowered by the familiarity of the smells. I can’t even remember having ever registered these smells when I was young. I was so excited that I kept sniffing at the plants. Then I realised if anyone spotted me they would probably think I had escaped from a mental institution.

During the forty plus years that I have lived in Australia I have naturally grown to love the smell and the shape of the gum trees and I adore the sounds of the warbling magpies and currawongs. They have also become a part of my psyche.

When I was working at the Glen Waverley Library five years after I had arrived in Australia, I came across a book called Wild Australia: a view of birds and men, with paintings and drawings by the Australian artist John Olsen. His illustrations struck a strong chord within me and I realised for the first time the extent to which Australia had become “my place”.

At the time I was a complete ignoramus as far as art was concerned and I had never heard of Olsen. I wrote to him that same day and explained how I had struggled to come to terms with Australia’s animal and plant life and landscapes, which differed so much from that which I had grown up with. I told him his art work had captured the essence of Australia’s places and it had made me realise that I really felt at home in my new country.

Olsen responded:

John Olsen letter 11.2.80

Ironically, when I am traveling in South Africa these days and I see a eucalypt or a callistemon with its red bottlebrush flowers, I immediately long for “home”. Such is the ambivalence of my belonging.

A couple of years ago I caught up with Johan, a university friend, in South Africa. It was the first time I had seen him since I had left my homeland all those decades ago. We had lost touch with each other when I departed, but now we were overjoyed to meet again.

“It’s so good to see you again after all these years, Tiens. I had heard somewhere that you had gone to Australia and I’ve often wondered how you were going there and what you were doing.” Then he added, “So when are you coming home?”

And for a little while there I felt I was ‘home’.

The writer Gillian Slovo, daughter of a South African political refugee, described this ambivalence perfectly in an article in The Bookseller of 31 January 1997:

North London is where I’ve lived most of my life. But there are things about South Africa that feel more like home to me … I have to deal with the fact that, like most exiles, I am at home in two places, and a stranger in both.

My children do not suffer from the same ambivalence as their father. When my son Neil was six years old I took him and a couple of his little mates to the local swimming pool one day. They were all sitting in the back of the car. I overheard one friend asking Neil, “Why does your dad speak so funny?”

“How do you mean?’ asked Neil.

“He doesn’t speak the same as us Aussies.”

“Oh,” Neil replied. “That’s because me dad’s an Afro. And me mum’s a Pom, but me – I’m an Aussie!”

A chance encounter with the Primrose Rugby Club

Primrose Rugby Club 2

On a blustery day in September 2012 my wife and I were relaxing in our seats in the rear of a plane on the tarmac at Cape Town’s international airport on our way back to Australia, when a babble of excited voices filled the aircraft and a group of young boys, accompanied by some adults, made their way to where we were sitting. We quietly braced ourselves for a long and noisy flight.

The boys were all dark-skinned and clearly belonged to some sort of sporting club.

Whilst growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid era, I had never once played sport against, nor even sat next to anyone who was not white. Under the laws of the time everything relating to racial matters was separate or ‘apart’ – sport, public transport, park benches, churches, schools, toilets and even public parks.

Having been active in the Anti-Apartheid movement for many years, it was a novel and heart-warming experience for me to share the plane with these excited, dark-skinned youngsters.

Their coach’s seat was not far from mine, on the other side of the aisle. I could tell that he had an excellent rapport with the kids. One of the boys came past and ruffled his hair. When they became too excited and noisy, he called them to order and they quietened down immediately.

“What is the name of your club?” I asked the coach.

“The Primrose Rugby Club. Our boys are going to compete in a rugby competition for Under 13s in New Zealand.”

I had never heard of the Primrose Rugby Club, so I asked him how long the club had been in existence. “It started in 1896,” he said. “It’s a community club. I used to play for them myself when I was young. We have at least one boy here who is going to play for South Africa one day,” he added confidently.

The separation or ‘apartheid’ between races when I grew up was so comprehensive that this rugby club, which had existed not far from where I had lived as a schoolboy, was unfamiliar to me.

“Do your teams sometimes fly to other parts of South Africa to compete?” I asked him.

“Oh no, very few of our players would ever have been in an aeroplane before.”

The excitement amongst the boys was palpable. One of them had taken more than a hundred photos on his digital camera in the plane even before take-off. Another exclaimed: “Look! They even have little televisions in here.” He turned to me. “Could you please show me how to switch this on?”

The plane started moving towards the runway. I asked the young fellow across the aisle from me if he had ever travelled in a plane before. “No, never,” he replied. “I’m very scared!”

As the plane gathered speed on the runway the boys’ voices grew louder and some of them cried out aloud in fright when it lifted off the ground. Suddenly, one of them started singing the post-Apartheid South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikilel iAfrika” (“Lord Bless Africa”, in the Xhosa language) and all the others immediately joined in to sing their fear of flying away. It was an enthusiastic and beautiful impromptu performance.

Later, back in Melbourne, I googled the Primrose Rugby Club and found an amateur video of the boys on a New Zealand rugby field, standing in line and facing a long line of their young New Zealand opponents, who were performing the haka. I could imagine just how immensely the boys of the Primrose Rugby Club would have enjoyed that moment, and I was grateful that something like this had become possible in my lifetime.

Some months later I googled the Primrose Rugby Club again, curious to know how their tour of New Zealand had gone. One website informed me that they had made history as the first ever international team to have been invited to compete in the prestigious Annual New Zealand Junior Rugby Festival. Then I found a photo on another website that caused me to be overwhelmed with great emotion, as well as with a strange feeling of immense pride. There was the trophy for the Under 13 Champions of the New Zealand Junior Rugby Festival, perched on the shore of Table Bay, with Cape Town in the background.

Primrose Rugby Club trophy

 

*

 POSTSCRIPT

At the time of writing this piece I had tried my utmost to find a contact email address or snail mail address for the Primrose Rugby Club so that I could share this story with them, but to my great frustration I was unable to do so. Then, out of the blue four years later, I received the following message per email:

22 June 2017

Hi There

It was by chance that I came across your article which was written in 2014 about a group of young rugby players setting off to play for the very first time in a foreign country. 🙂 Boys from Primrose Rugby Club.

I was on that plane with those boys and I would love to share your post on my blog: zivs2.wordpress.com

It was a really fascinating story which I would love to share with you some time.

Best regards

Zivia Sallie

 

22 June 2017

Reblogged this on The World of Zivs and commented: It was per chance that I found this article today. To all the Primrose Rugby boys, staff and parents who travelled on this flight with us…I’m sure you will all just be smiling when you read this.

 

22 June 2017

Dear Tim

You cannot imagine my delight in discovering your article this morning. It brought back so many fond memories of this tour and I have already shared with most families linked to that tour.

I will take some time out and email you the details and I am certain you will find it extremely fascinating.

The tour was a great success. We returned to SA with a Silver plate and boys whose lives had been changed forever.

I hope to be in touch sometime soon.

Best Regards

Zivia

 

23 June 2017

I shared your post with many of the parents and they thanked me for sharing because it brought back so many beautiful memories for them too. One of the families now live in New Zealand and the mom, Insaaf, said that she was in tears just remembering that time. She has also travelled with the group.

Zivia

10,000 steps

Now that I am at the stage of my life where I can faintly discern the skeleton figure holding a scythe in the distance, I have started thinking about where I would like my ashes to be laid to rest. My daughter told me she was going to keep them in an urn in her house. I can’t think of anywhere worse to end up than being cooped up in an urn on a shelf, gathering dust, so I had to start thinking of more palatable alternatives that I could foist onto my family.

My initial idea was to have my ashes scattered in our garden. Then I recalled disposing of my father-in-law’s ashes in their lovely rose garden in the village of Marlow in England, only to find some years later that the new owners of the house had converted the rose garden into a boring lawn. In any case, the thought of ending up in a garden eventually owned by total strangers does not appeal.

Having considered the matter further, I decided my ashes should be taken out to sea and scattered at the Devil’s Cauldron in the ocean at Hermanus, a small coastal village in South Africa where I had spent many happy holidays with my family as a child. The Devil’s Cauldron is a group of small rocks jutting out of the sea. Through all the twists and turns in my life over the years, this was a constant familiar sight to me since early childhood. One of the first things that I do whenever I visit Hermanus is to stand on the cliff and gaze at the Devil’s Cauldron.

099 Hermanus 5 - The Devil's Boiling Pot

The Devil’s Cauldron, Hermanus

A while ago I met up with my old aunt, Mara, who lives in Hermanus. She is a born again Christian who is well aware of the fact that I am an infidel. When I told her of my wish to have my ashes scattered at the Devil’s Cauldron, Mara looked me straight in the eye and declared, “Yes, that would be right!”

But recently I changed my mind again when I came to realise what bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and expense I would burden my family with if I insisted on the Devil’s Cauldron as my final abode. I was still trying to resolve the matter of my ashes in my mind when I met my friend Alan the Wandering Philosopher earlier this week on my daily walk along the Diamond Creek.

*

My obsession with walking 10,000 steps per day started fourteen years ago, when I was working at Moreland City Council in Melbourne. Our CEO had decided to encourage the members of the corporate management team to adopt a healthier lifestyle by walking 10,000 steps each day. He gave us each a step counter to wear on our belts so we could monitor our number of daily steps. At that time my job was all consuming. I spent most of my time sitting in meetings or in front of a computer at my desk. Due to work pressures I normally worked through my lunch hour and rarely ventured outside.

The first three days I wore the step counter I barely made it to 2,000 steps each day. Horrified by this result I started going for walks at lunchtimes and after dinner. I also began to park my car at the far end of the car park at the supermarket, instead of as close to the entrance as possible. Over a year or so I gradually changed my habits and increased my number of steps until I averaged 10,000 steps per day.

My wife calls me obsessive and I am not denying she has a point. “I’m just popping outside for a few minutes,” I would say after dinner.

She would roll her eyes and ask, “Still a few steps short of the 10,000 for the day then, are you?”

To which I would reply something like, “Yep, I still have another 327 steps to go. I’ll be back soon.”

When she remarks on my obsessive bent I tell her, in my own defence: “At least my obsessions are healthy ones. I could have been obsessed with chasing other women, or with getting drunk, so don’t complain.”

As part of my daily routine I walk along the Diamond Creek footpath every day. There is a spot just past the crest of an incline, before a long sweep in the path towards the west, where the local Council has done some repair works to the footpath. There is a cross-lying strain-relief groove across the path and the colour of the path changes there to a lighter shade of grey, where a section of the path has been replaced. It is exactly 4,800 steps from the car park to this point. It is here that I turn around each day after carefully stepping over the groove, in the knowledge I would make up the rest of my daily 10,000 steps by going to the supermarket and through normal other daily activity.

Alan the Wandering Philosopher, whom I often run into on my morning walk, knows all about my obsession. He texted me recently:

“I was walking along the creek path this morning. When I reached the exact spot at the path where you always turn around on your walk I couldn’t help wondering whether obsession might not be nine tenths of the law.”

“Closer to 99% in my case”, I texted back.

Earlier this week I ran into him again along the creek path and we walked together. When we got to the spot where I always turn back, he joked, “Make sure you step right across the groove before you turn back, eh.”

Suddenly a light bulb flashed inside my head.

“You know what? I think I’m going to ask my family to scatter my ashes right here after I’ve carked it.”

To which he replied: “Good idea! Just make sure they know to scatter them on the far side of the groove.”

Continue reading

The marvels of modern medicine

In 1983, while working in Port Moresby at the National Library Service of Papua New Guinea, I contracted a terrible ear infection. In time the pain almost drove me insane. Blood, pus and black goo leaked from my ear all day and night. I had to sleep with my head on an old towel and I lost my hearing completely in the infected ear.

Over the next two months I tried two types of ear drops, went to see the doctor five times, underwent an ear syringing, completed five full courses of four different antibiotics and had three injections, with absolutely no effect.

An acquaintance at the University of Papua New Guinea, who had heard about my ongoing problem with the ear infection, rang me and told me that a certain Dr Ghosh, an Indian ear, nose and throat specialist, was in town on a temporary training attachment at the Port Moresby General Hospital. I promptly went to see my doctor and asked him for a referral to see this Dr Ghosh.

On a steaming hot day in March, nearing the end of the wet season, I walked into Dr Ghosh’s office, introduced myself, and told him, “I’m getting really depressed about this ear infection, Doctor. The damn thing appears to be incurable and the pain is driving me around the bend.”

Dr Ghosh raised both his hands as if to fend off my words. “Depressed? Depressed? My dear fellow, there is no need to get depressed. This is the Twentieth Century, after all. We can now cure almost any infection!” I nodded and kept my disbelief to myself.

The doctor proceeded to peer into my ear. “Ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly, after a minute, “no wonder the antibiotics have had no effect. What we have here is a fungal infection, not a bacterial one. Oh, no, no, there are no bacteria in that ear. Only fungus.” He then proceeded to tell me with great merriment how he had recently cured a young fellow’s nose problem by advising him to get married! It was with difficulty that I managed to hide my lagging confidence in the good doctor.

He wrote out a prescription for anti-fungal drops, which he handed to me. He noticed that I was looking a tad sceptical. “Oh,” he said, brimful of confidence, “you use those drops and within three weeks’ time you will say to yourself, ‘My goodness, Dr Ghosh has cured me!’”

Having no alternative but to hope desperately for a miracle cure, I thanked him and set off to the chemist to get the anti-fungal drops. As I was leaving his office he shouted after me, “Depressed? Oh, no, my dear fellow, no need to get depressed! This is the Twentieth Century, after all!”

The prescription I collected from the chemist was for Tinaderm drops. I carefully read the instructions on the label, which stated that Tinaderm would cure things like tinea, foot rot and crotch itch. There was no mention of using them in one’s ear.

I had little choice but to trust Dr Ghosh, so I gritted my teeth and put a few drops into my ear, repeating the process the next morning and the next evening. After two days I woke up in the morning and discovered to my amazement that my ear infection had vanished completely.

“Oh, the marvels of modern medicine,” I mused to myself. “No, no, there was no need to get depressed.”

 

Southern Africa

We started our trip in June 2016 in Swaziland, where we stayed at the Sondzela Backpackers in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. It is one of my favourite places on earth.

016 Mlilwane - Executioner's Rock

The mountain on the left is called Executioner’s Rock. In ancient times Swazis suspected of witchcraft or criminals were forced to walk off the edge at spear-point for their crimes.

This is what our accommodation looked like:

013 Mlilwane hut 1

Next we visited the Kruger National Park for twelve days, staying in three different campsites: Berg-en-Dal, Lower Sabie and Skukuza. Not a day went by when we did not have many sightings of a large variety of animals.

044 Kruger- Giraffes

Giraffes at waterhole. There is an interesting article at http://www.animalanswers.co.uk/animals/how-do-giraffes-drink-without-passing-out/   which explains why giraffes don’t pass out when they drink water.

050 Kruger- Baboons at dusk.jpg

The animals have right of way.

057 Kruger - Buffalo skull

This buffalo was the victim of lions or a leopard.

064 Kruger sunset

The sunsets in the Kruger Park are often stunning.

081 Kruger - Lions

These lions ignored the tourists with disdain. They like lying in the road towards the end of the day because the road stays warm for a while after dark.

088 Kruger - Waterhole with zebras and hippos

Waterhole with zebras, hippopotamuses and a crocodile

096 Kruger - Rhinos

White rhinos. In the three years from 2012 to 2014 1,858 of these magnificent animals were killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park.

133 Kruger - Kudu at waterhole

A kudu and impalas at a waterhole

140 Kruger - Elephants at waterhole

A large herd of elephants arrived while we were waiting at this waterhole. The one on the left kept a wary eye on us.

153 Kruger - Hyena with carcass

A hyena scavenging on a very smelly carcass

157 Kruger - Giraffe

We saw many giraffes every single day that we were in the park. They are the most graceful of animals and we never tired of seeing them in their natural environment.

163 Kruger - Zebras

A zebra with her baby

After the Kruger National Park we travelled to Namibia to visit the Etosha National Park in the north of the country. The park borders on the Etosha Salt Pan, which is 40 kms wide and 175 kms long.

187 Etosha - Kori bustard

We were surprised at the variety of birds and animals living in Etosha’s dry landscape. This bird is called a Kori Bustard. Not a bad name to call someone who gives one grief, I reckon.

194 Etosha - Springbok herd

There were many large herds of springboks in the park.

202 Etosha - Tree and blue wildebeest

Blue wildebeest – a common sight

244 Etosha - Gemsbok-1

An oryx. They thrive in dry areas.

223 Etosha - Gill, Mike & Jennifer on salt pan-1

Not a blade of grass grows on the Etosha salt pan. It is an endless vista of nothingness.

Finally we travelled to Cape Town and to Hermanus (see picture below), where we suffered from culture shock when confronted by the sea and the green landscapes after the barrenness of Namibia!

249 Hermanus-1

Tim Bruwer

The opposite of handy

I will be the first to admit that I am not what you would call a handyman. Quite the opposite, in fact.

My lack of handyman skills was apparent from an early age. The only test that I ever failed at school was in woodwork, when we were given pictures of a variety of tools. We had to name these tools and write down what each one is used for. I couldn’t even tell the difference between a screwdriver and a chisel and any tool more complicated than those two baffled me completely.

Two years into high school every boy in our class had to do a woodwork project. I attempted to make a very basic small folding seat. It was a disaster. I just couldn’t do it. I was saved by the fact that our woodwork classroom had to be relocated near the end of the school year to another part of the school premises, around the time when our projects were due to be completed. Such was my desperation that I smuggled my attempt at the folding seat out in my school bag and dumped it into the bushes on the way home.

After we had moved into the new classroom, the teacher asked to see my project.

“I can’t find it, Sir. It must have been lost when they moved our stuff to the new classroom.”

In my first year at university I struggled to find my feet. I kept changing courses and was unable to find direction. Eventually one of my lecturers arranged for me to have an aptitude test.

A few days after completing the test I had to go and discuss the results with the person who had administered the test.

“Your aptitude test results are very mixed,” he told me. “I would recommend studies that would lead to a career in the diplomatic service.”

I was still digesting this, thinking how I could never become a diplomat in the service of the Apartheid regime, when he elaborated on the test results.

“Now, when it comes to mechanical skills, I have to tell you that you have achieved the lowest score of anyone that I have tested over the years. I suggest that you never try working with your hands. You’re an intelligent kid. Just stick to using your brains, but not your hands.”

Over the years my lack of handyman skills has become the stuff of legend, as becomes someone with as spectacular an aptitude test result as mine.

A few months ago I was standing outside a shop in Diamond Creek, talking to my mate Ken, when Digby from the local Mitre 10 hardware store came by.

“Hi Ken, How’re you going?” Digby said.

“I’m good,” said Ken. “This is my mate Tim.”

“Oh, I know Tim,” said Digby.

Ken was astounded. “Where do you know Tim from? Surely he’s never set foot in Mitre 10?”

“Oh yes, he does, sometimes. He comes in with his wife, that is. She buys the bits and pieces that she needs and if need be she asks me for advice. Tim just comes along for the company and to help her to carry stuff.”

Gill, my wife, contends that my inability to fix or make things is a matter of attitude, whereas I insist that it is a matter of aptitude. I have tried really hard, once or twice, like the time when we bought the wheelbarrow at KMart. It came in a cardboard box and we had to put it together ourselves.

“That’ll be simple,” Gill said. “Can you do it please?”

I asked her to find me the necessary tools and then I laboured for more than an hour, before realising that there were some components missing. “Bloody Kmart!” I raged. “You’d think that they would check that all the pieces are there before they sell the thing.”

Gill cocked her head to one side, inspected my handiwork and picked up the screwdriver and spanner. Within less than five minutes she had disassembled my construction completely and had reassembled it into a working wheelbarrow.

*        *        *

Sharing a house with someone else is challenging at the best of times, and so it is with us. I cannot stand background noise, but Gill likes to listen to John Pain (Faine) on talkback radio every morning and to that irritating Macka on a Sunday morning. She also likes the noise of the television in the background at times, whereas I love it when the house is dead quiet.

As if this is not challenging enough, Gill is a collector and a hoarder. I am a minimalist, but our house is full of stuff, small and big. Although I detest clutter, I cannot escape it in our house.

“If you cark it before me,” I told her grumpily one morning, raising my voice over John Faine’s, “I’m going to conduct proper interviews and have selection criteria for choosing my next wife. I’ll ask them if they like talkback radio, and whether they have ever collected anything.”

“Good idea!” she replied. Without missing a beat, she added “And while you’re at it, ask them whether they can fix things.”

The hyena’s breath

Most of my friends’ eyes begin to glaze over as soon as I mention the Kruger National Park. This is because it’s such a wonderful place that I enthuse about it far more than I should. I first went to the Kruger, as it is affectionately called in South Africa, when I was a primary school child. The first day there we spent peering into the bush to spot animals through the window of my dad’s 1949 Pontiac Silver Streak. I became so over-excited that I vomited ceaselessly the entire next day and I had to stay behind in the campsite with my mum. I remember little of my next visit to the Kruger, because on that occasion I floated about the place in a romantic haze. We were only there for two or three days, when I took my fiancée Gill to South Africa to introduce her to my family en route to England, where we were due to get married. My parents, my brother Charel and his wife Marlien took us there to showcase the beauty and variety of their country to the English bride-to-be. I can only remember a single animal-spotting incident during that visit. We came across a white lion, the rarest of rare beasts in the Kruger. Although a small group of white lions had lived in the Timbavati area for decades, there are so few of them in the Kruger that they are seldom seen. The others were breathless with surprise and excitement. Then Gill, unaware of the momentous significance of the occasion, asked my brother, “Do you think we’ll get to see any normal lions too?” Many years later, when our children were small, I ran into our orthodontist friend Paul at a social occasion. “I’ve visited your old country earlier this year,” he told me. “We went to this place called the Kruger National Park.” “How did you like it?” I enquired. “You know, Tim, I’ve done a lot of travelling in my time, but I haven’t been that excited over any place since I was a child.” I recalled my own excitement in the Kruger as a child. There and then I decided to visit the Kruger Park with my family. A few months afterwards we flew to South Africa for a visit to the relatives and to visit the Kruger. I left the traveling arrangements in South Africa to Charel, who picked us up at the Johannesburg airport and took us to his house in Pretoria. He told us to have a quick shower before we set off for the Kruger. “Today?” I asked in disbelief, having just spent twenty plus hours in an aeroplane. “Yes,” he said, “and get a move on. The camp gates close at 6 pm”. We arrived at the camp in time. Charel pitched two tents right next to the perimeter fence, one for him and Marlien and one for our family. Darkness descended in the blink of an eye. He set about barbecuing meat and boerewors (the traditional South African farmer’s sausages) on a grill over the glowing coals. After we had eaten, looking somewhat furtive, he told us quietly: “We’re not allowed to feed any wild animals here, but I brought along an old T-bone so that we can attract a hyena for your Aussie kids to see.” He took out a huge bone and threw it over the fence. Hardly a minuted had passed when our son Neil whispered to me, “I think the hyena is here, Dad.” “Rubbish.” I said dismissively. “He won’t just appear that quickly.” But Charel passed his torch to Neil and told him to have a look. Neil pointed the torch at the fence, switched it on, and there, not two metres away from us on the other side of the fence, stood a large hyena who proceeded to crush the bone in its mouth as if it were a mere rice cracker. I could see why the hyena is so renowned for its strong bite, proportional to its size. I rather like hyenas, despite their loping gate and ill-proportioned bodies. They have lovely dog-like eyes, in stark contrast to the icy cold and merciless yellow eyes of lions, which send a shiver down your spine when you see them close to your car. 219 KNP Hyena But my brother is less fond of them. When he told me that a hyena’s breath is one of the foulest-smelling in the animal kingdom he spoke from experience. Hyenas are consummate scavengers that will feast on putrid meat with as little ill effect on its constitution as if you and I were to eat a piece of toast with marmalade. When I went back to South Africa last year, Marlien told me about their recent visit to the Kruger. Accompanied by Marlien’s friend Willana, they erected their two tents next to the perimeter fence as usual. After dark they had a braai (barbecue) and drank a fair quantity of wine. When Marlien and Willana decided to call it a day and go bed, Charel, who was quite merry by this stage, decided to stay behind at the fire and have another glass or two of wine. Close to midnight Marlien and Willana were woken by a series of unearthly howls. As they emerged from their tents in bewilderment they saw Charel lurching about, wildly wiping his shoulder-long hair with his hands, and screaming incoherently. It transpired that he had kept on drinking until he had passed out right next to the fence. He had been brought back to consciousness by the awful smell of rotten flesh and by something tugging at the hair at the back of his head. It was a hyena that had tried to bite his head through the fence. Marlien ended her account by asking Charel, hands on her hips, as is often her stance when she has a point of importance to make to him: “Now tell us, Charel, what lesson have you learnt from that episode?” Without missing a beat he responded, “Well, in the Kruger you should never pass out right beside the fence.”