Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I spent a great deal of time trapping on the farm of one of the parents of the ‘unfriendly’ couple. He has a huge dam, and I found that if I parked there, did a balancing-act across the dam wall (which isn’t all that scary, I could probably have walked normally) and then wriggled through some undergrowth and thorn trees I would end up on a string of nice big outcrops.

They weren’t really all that inaccessible, which was made evident by the piles of reed-type things that were always lying around drying in the sun.  I always presumed that they were being dried out in preparation of weaving something but I never saw anyone else there and so I went about my business as usual.

The lizards there are HUGE! My usual guys have a body length around 6-7.5 cm. The ones I got there were 8 cm at a minimum. It makes a difference! I learned pretty early on that they got to that big because they’re crafty. I’m talking trap-evasion as never seen before… where one string of traps usually works, and two definitely does, these guys would almost tap dance around three of four (and I could swear I heard them giggling).

One day I was trapping when someone started yelling something at me. I looked up and saw that I could see the road from where I was, and a woman was yelling something in some language I’d never heard before. I did the sensible response, smiling, waving and answering with “Hoe gaan dit?”

She left after a while and I carried on, only to have her materialise RIGHT behind me. Not usually all that alarming, but you must remember I hadn’t seen another human being in a good two weeks at that stage, personal space is entirely relative, and mine was HUGE.

After a few false starts we got talking, it turned out she and her family had come from Swaziland to find work (not an unusual scenario in the area) and she lived up the road, working on a bunch of farms in the area whenever they needed someone. It took a while to get this information because she spoke an odd mixture of Afrikaans, Zulu and Swazi. The farm workers generally speak some combination of a few languages, and most of them can manage enough Afrikaans for me to have a conversation with them, but this lady was a bit trickier than usual. She introduced herself as Jorana (“NOT Joanna! These silly farmers, they all call me Joanna and that’s not my name!”)

Of course trying to explain what I was doing was slightly trickier, she understood ‘catch’, ‘research’ and ‘the farmer said I could!’ but she battled to understand what I was catching. As I hadn’t caught anything yet that day I couldn’t exactly show her one either, so I ended up describing a lizard in great detail.

Suddenly her face lit up. “Ja! Ek het hulle gesien! Kom ek sal vir julle wys!” Well I’m not complaining if she can show me where they are, it might be the areas I’d already tried, but there might be a different outcrop of a pile of rocks I hasn’t noticed. I followed her a little way before I realised she was taking me back to the road. Strange, but Ok…

She stopped on the dam wall

“Daar’s hy!” huh? My lizards swim? I asked if she was sure and she went on and on about how you don’t always see them but they live in the water.

This brought back memories of looking for baboons for Luke’s project once, when some road-maintenance guys told us that the baboons hide underground in tunnels that they dig under the grass. I figured she was just superstitious or something, but when I asked she insisted that she saw them often. I asked if she was sure – small, green with orange tails… she shook her head. No, not pretty colours, but the akkedis, they’re in the water.

After much debate, even more descriptions from me and a trip back to the outcrop where mercifully a lizard (not one I wanted but at least it was a lizard) had emerged she suddenly figured it out.

“Oh! ‘n goggatjie! Jy’t gese ‘n akkedis!” Call me crazy, but generally lizard is ‘akkadis’ while ‘gogga’ means insect or general creepy crawly thing… finally she explained that the the people working the area, lizard was ‘gogga’ (something I’d heard before in the kalahari) and she’d thought I was talking about ngwenya (or crocodiles) hence the trip to the dam.

It was a very valuable lesson as I’ve learned that most people around here call my lizards goggas, and now I can say “het jy akedisse gesien? Gogga, nie ngwenya nie!” and they tend to follow what I’m going on about!

Before she left Jorana gave me directions to her house and told me that if I ever needed help I must go there and take her children as field assistants for the day.

Moral of the story: if you ever have to do fieldwork, take flashcards or something, it would make life easier.

And if you’re walking in the bush and someone yells “NGWENYA!” you should probably run.

Have a great week!


Leia said...

Oh dear! Lucky she figured it out - else you may still be wondering why she took you to the dam...

You had me in stitches with this post!!

po said...

Cool story! Miss Lizard Dundee, are you glad you are not wrestling crocs for your thesis?

EEbEE said...

so did you ever see any crocodiles in the dam?

Luke said...

That's so funny!!! I'd have been a little alarmed by the fact that there are crocodiles in the water you were crossing though...

Rural folk are awesome!

Kath Lockett said...

Helen I am so impressed that you can master several languages - I struggle with ONE.

Olga said...

What a lovely mixture of all the languages! What looks like Dutch I guess was Afrikaans, but I'd do a lot to hear someone speak Zulu again... I can't be more puzzled at how those wonderful clicking sounds can be produced by human beings...a mystery!!

Helen said...

Leia: thanks!

Po: I hve a friend working on crocodiles, they're actuall awesome! I always wanted a dwarf croc for a pet, although they have a reputation for being nasty ankle biters!

EEbEE: noppe, although a lot of people ave warned me about them!

Luke: where's your sense of adventure?

Kath: 'master' is a bit exaggerated. I speak English and Afrikaans (cometimes) and enough Zulu to handle basic greetings, find a bathroom and tell a kid to wake up and go to school. I can also say 'no I won't!'
In a country with 11 official languages it's quite pathetic actually!

Olga: yip it's afrikaans, I love earing people speak dutch it's so strange to almost but not quite understand! the accent is VERY different!