Monday, November 30, 2009

Living their lives away

So I packed up and raced home on Thursday night, driving through several storms and stopping only to pick up cinnamon cola for the folks back home and a wedding present for the wedding on Saturday. It was quite fun actually, I didn’t warn anyone of my coming home a day early (there was one mega storm on its way and I didn’t want to get trapped there) and my mother got the fright of her life! The only downside (besides realising how bad this place smells) was all the construction that’s happened sine I left – the highway interchanges have all changed so I ended up taking a detour through Bedfordview, then to Midrand, then Kyalami, then Sunninghill while cringing at the fact that despite all the street-lamps and buildings that make this place so bright at night, people still have to blind me by driving with their brights on.

It was quite fortunate that I got back early, I got to go to donut-day, as well as our department’s end-of-year function where everyone made a huge fuss of me and I wanted to curl up and hide under a chair… I also had car trouble so at least there was time to sort it out pre-wedding+work+social Saturday and I was able to spend a couple of hours with La and CG and organise a proper Saturday evening.

Saturday was insane! I finished late at work (eventually just leaving the vet with the last client) changed in record time and just made it to the wedding which was really really stunning! I mean I got to see that side of the family for the first time in ages, I got a shiny new cousin who was looking so gorgeous AND they gave me bubble-mix! What a perfect wedding!

From there we planned for goth-clubbing but fate gave me a minor klap and instead I wound up as the only English girl at a sokkie club with several people trying their best to teach me to langarm, wile I had other friends calling me repeatedly from the goth club (about a kilometre down the road) to tell me how awesome it was. Did I mention that being all gothed-up at a sokkie club is not the most comfortable situation? Unfortunately La and CG had the time of their lives and refused to elave until it was too late and they didn’t want to go through to our original destination and as I wasn’t driving I had to be OK with it.

I have nothing against them having a good time, it was awesome to see CG smiling so much for once, and I felt really selfish for feeling so unhappy. I think it was just that after being considered to be totally crazy for the last couple for months I wanted to go somewhere where I’m considered to be vaguely normal. Being the only English girl (dressed in black) at the sokkie club, particularly following being so singled out everywhere else over the previous 36 hours made me very miserable. Particularly when they seemed to be enjoying my Englishness so much that they either laughed at my attempts to speak to them in Afrikaans or else refused to let me try.

It’s nice to be home though, bad smells and traffic notwithstanding! My hair straightener and I had a very emotional reunion, I nearly died at gym (lowveld to highveld altitude shift + a week of sitting around = I’m going to die at tai chi tomorrow) , I had too much coffee in the lab this morning while discussing stats and experimental design and was reduced to a gibbering wreck on my way to work this afternoon. So basically once Leia gets back from diving tomorrow it’ll all be right back to normal!

And it’s the Killers concert on Friday!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Leaving home for home

So the anti-poaching guys are back, camping next to my bathroom with their rifles…

As annoying as it is (they use the bathroom which currently has all my laundry hanging up – my mother always taught me that leaving your underwear in view of strangers was rude but I don’t want to pack wet clothes) I’m kind of glad – a trip without them yelling “KNOCK KNOCK!” at my front door would be so not right…

I’ve begun my routine of getting ready to go home – defrosting the freezer, packing up my lizard room (this takes the better part of a day, the rest of the cleaning and packing takes a couple of hours), walking to my favourite places without taking a camera – to make sure that I work hard to remember the place and the emotions and the feeling of the hot wind and the dust on my face, the gravelly sand road underfoot, the weird grunting of the wildebeest (once I thought it was a certain lecturer) feel more real than usual when I’m doing the ‘lasts’.

Other things include setting aside the cleanest and nicest outfit I have for the drive home, as well as doing a proper hair condition and scrubbing myself all shiny. I paint my toenails, use an extra layer of moisturiser, wait until the last second to pack my mouthwash… so that I can sit in a car for five hours. Weird I know.

There’s also the packing – it has to go in stages as each piece of equipment is used for the last time. The last time that syringe is used, the last time for the treadmill, the cooler box, the callipers, the funky expensive machinery and so on.

And with all the ceremony, I finally just throw it all in the car, lock the door and leave without looking back. Until I realise  forgot something and have to turn around and go back…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

great men?

As I have a lot of work to do (cleaning this place takes forever), need to get to bed early and  have two large men with rifles camping outside my bathroom (really) I figured it would be a good time to publish one of the ‘Secret posts’.


Whenever I’m alone for extended periods of time I think about History. I guess I’m a very lazy History-buff – I don’t watch documentaries on the History channel or anything but I like to hear the stories and read and ask questions. I love being able to drive around and know why a river is named what it is, and what happened there (it also makes conversation on road trips easier, albeit mildly one-sided).

My mom was a history teacher before I was born and she always had awesome stuff lying around, like Napoleon teaching packs (they were SO cool, like a bunch of news clippings and pictures and telegrams and things. I know now that they were fake, but the 10 year old me never thought about the fact that French newspaper articles were published in English was at all suspect. I was obsessed with the Napoleonic era back then (there were other info packs, like ancient Egypt, and the world wars and stuff, but they only got dusted off when I had school projects) to a point where I wonder if I was born somewhere where they had those crazy re-enactment people I might have joined in. I secretly longed to join the navy and learn to climb rigging and eat limes to avoid scurvy…

I took History in high school and loved it until I had an ardent socialist for a teacher at one stage who picked on me mercilessly and gave me awful marks because I would argue back pro-capitalism based on the fact that socialism and human nature don’t mesh well (in my opinion anyway). Either way somehow I came out of it knowing how to write an essay (my ‘work’ writing is actually pretty concise and focussed, who’d have known?) which basically carried me through university as well as a bunch of ‘useless’ knowledge.

I live thinking about things now and wondering how they will be studied by bored teenagers in the future. I remember learning to analyse cartoons to understand the general public attitude to world events which gives me a vey different view on Zapiro’s latest to some people. I don’t really remember much pre-1994 (I turned 9 a week after the elections to great stress to me – what if there were elections a week before I turned 18? Would they let me vote?) but as I speak to people now or people ask me questions I’ve been putting the little fragments of memories into context and understanding why people acted as they did. The frantic stockpiling of baked beans and candles is one of the more recently resolved mysteries!

Anyway I’ve been thinking a lot about the Great Man Theory – did History happen the way it did because of a few special individuals? The alternative (which I’ve always subscribed to) is that circumstances socially, politically, economically and so on mean that the world is at near-to-boiling point each time one of those people appears. If those great leaders hadn’t been born, someone else would have done their job and the world today would be the same as always except for slightly different street names.

But lately I’ve been wondering if that’s true. South Africa went from a pretty nasty police-state to democracy without a civil war or any of the alternatives to what happened. Would that have happened without Mandela’s leadership? I’ve been reading a lot on African History lately and the comparison of my home to other ex-colonies is just plain scary!

Would Germany have become Germany without the awesomely manipulative Bismarck (one of my favourite historical characters, he was a LEGEND!)? What about the president in South America who asked for a pay cut for himself and his cabinet so that they could put money into education and infrastructure? What are the chances that there would be another one of those waiting in the wings?

So what’s the answer? Is the world we live in a consequence of a few great men (and women) or is it all just inevitable?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Things I am learning*


  1. Country music isn’t all that bad: you get to put on an accent while you sing along! (Neko Case’s Karoline = case in point)
  2. Skipping is addictive. Every time I hear an upbeat song I have an urge to grab the rope…
  3. I should stop leaving male models lying around. I keep spotting them out the corner of my eye and freaking that I’ve got an escapee.
  4. sitting around makes me write a lot of blog posts. Rather than ‘I should blog that later’ I generally type up thoughts immediately, which leaves me with a bundle of posts and no real urge to inundate the blogosphere with my random opinions. In the last week I’ve written: views on History, views on feminism, thoughts on new music I’ve discovered I had all along, a really depressing post on a bad day, thoughts on girly-detox, several movie reviews, a list of things I’m looking forward to at home, three more Adventures of Lizard-girl sagas, a life-wishlist, a random realisation that a couple of bloggers are people I know IRL and never made the connection, two open letters, a discussion on the merits of tea and a confession to my connectivity-addiction. Any idea on what to do with them?
  5. life without eyeliner and a hair straightener, while liveable, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I fear my semi-goth days are over as I’m not (as) pasty-white anymore, but we’ll see…
  6. every time the end of the trip draws near I feel a combination of fear and anticipation that leans closer to fear each time. the end of this trip it’s just plain unbridled terror and I don’t know why. It may have to do with worrying that the things and people I have missed are actually very different to the way I’ve over-thought them.
  7. If all your food goes vrot (or extremely suspect) due to long intervals between shopping trips and an extended power-outage you’d be amazed what you can make out of what survived. Like cheese spread, frozen peas, a tin of tuna, a bag of carrots and half an onion.Frozen peas are not just the world’s best impromptu ice-pack. Who knew?
  8. The farmer from next door will only ever visit when a)I’m covered in trapping grime, exhausted and on my way to shower; b) taking a nap and therefore grumpy; c) working while singing along to my ipod or talking to myself. Loudly.
  9. It is gigantically unfair that a week of cooped-upness results in me being unable to even get to the start of my running route. Come on, I exercised before a week ago! Are there no carry-over brownie points?
  10. Whoever invented soup deserves a Nobel prize. And a world soup-inventor day in their honour.
  11. The local farm-hands brought me a tortoise today. I’m not sure why, but I felt as if I should offer them life advice hermit-style in thanks for the offering.

*’Thing’s I’ve learned’ is so last Tuesday… And retro-day is only scheduled for next week…

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hi ho, hi ho

The sun is out hooray!

But my sites are flooded now.

As in we have (giant)rivers. With pretty little waterfalls.

I didn’t know lizards could swim.

We should call them ngwenya now.

But at least when I get home I’m going on HOLIDAY :)

To where? To the bush of course!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Excuses for skipping

Well now that it’s rained for over a week I’ve been going crazy(er) all cooped up. I guess over the last year I’ve become a relatively active person and i didn’t notice until I’ve been stuck inside!

A few days ago we had almost 100 mm of rain, and that was before the heavier rains started. Today was like living in a submarine – freezing horizontal rains separated occasionally by insanely dense fog. I can’t run as the roads are basically gravelly mud-slicks right now and I don’t really want serious injury at this stage. I can’t walk as I only brought one jacket here and it’ll never dry once it gets rained on. Tai chi is a non-option as i have to move around a lot and besides the total lack of level floors, my sword tends to connect with the light fittings (and after the explosions I treasure the ones that still function). It’s so cold that as well as watching my muscles melt back into goo, I really need to move around and warm up. I did a few dancing-like-a-maniac-around-my-living-area sessions, which confused the kudu who were looking through the window at the time. I’m not much of a dancer though, it’s easier with strobe lights and people around you who also look silly.

So when I went to town today (fun driving when everywhere is at least ankle-deep in mud and water!) and bought a heater for the lizards, I decided that desperate times = desperate measures and got myself a skipping rope.

Firstly, wow, I suck! It took me about four tries to manage more than about 10 ‘skips’  without a)tripping myself up, b)falling over my own feet c) tying my feet together or d)smacking myself in the face with the rope.

But now I’m really getting into it! Whenever I start feeling cold I get my ipod, put on ‘Excuses for Skipping’ (they’re a very awesome band!) and skip until I feel warmed up.

I’m beginning to wonder what other skills I’ve lost since childhood – tree-climbing and skipping have been salvageable, but I still can’t cartwheel or do a handstand. And there we think the kids are playing, while actually they’re in a brutal training regime…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts while measuring lizards

i have a dictaphone I use when I’m doing observations and transcribe later (lizards move pretty fast). I had it out and changed the batteries yesterday in an act of good faith that the weather will clear.Anyway it only records when there is speaking and I didn’t realise until I decided to double-check the tapes that I’d left it on. This is what it had on it: (This is a random section. The italics in square brackets are added in later to add some context. the lyrics are from the music I was listening to (10 points for anyone who can guess the album without Googling))

Here goes:

No… don’t bite! How do I note down that you’re just plain rude? Hmmm… I know… [‘feisty and uncooperative. Bites’] The fives are jinxed. [5 bit me, 15 bit me many times, 25 was a disaster, lets not even think about 35… So basically once I get past 55 I’m home free.] Except that 44 was a bugger too…

[One of them escaped last night while I was checking on them and I caught it between my neck and my shoulder, cellphone-while-driving style]. Who knew all those long teenage conversations on the phone while painting toenails were good for something? Don’t you agree? heh, lizards on cellphones… Let me tell you when i was an undergrad we used to add cellphones and accessories to our plankton pictures. Ok, I’ll shut up, just don’t bite me!

How do you know where you’re going

If you don’t know where you’ve been?

you hide the shame that you’re not showing

And you won’t let anyone in

A crowded street can be a quiet place

when you’re walking alone

Now you think that you’re the only one who doesn’t have to try

and you won’t … uh…. uh fail!

if you’re afraid to fly then-

No! I am going to measure your leg buddy. Fine I won’t sing. Ok then I WILL sing. Just because you don’t know the song doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate it!

At the AGM… that farmer who kept nodding… Oh wow, it was farmer [Bob]! [How could I not recognise my own surrogate-family? I was going to go and thank them before I left. could have been] awwwkwaaaard! Glad I didn’t stay for dinner, huh? No don’t bite me! And while we’re at it why didn’t you TELL me it was farmer {Bob]?

Forget your pain and watch me fall apart…

Sorry chicken, I have to measure you. Just… NO! Please don’t bite until I’ve measured your head.

Lately I’m so tired of waiting for you

…mmmm…. Let me be myself

Ok paddatjie, will it make you feel better to bite me? There you go, does that feel better? Now when I let you go tomorrow you can tell all the ladies that… back leg… front leg… that you attacked the big nasty human? Is this what aliens say when they abduct humans? Nooooo… I’m being extra nice! Plus it’s cold outside, aren’t you glad you got to be in a nice warm house for the cold front? I bet your friends are al shivering and you got to have an adven- Ok let go now. Come on…. I have to measure your friends…

I knew I talked and sang along a little bit, but this is just plain ridiculous!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There’s something more than just knowing better

I feel kind of guilty that everyone things i have a great optimistic streak. They didn’t see me yesterday when I was seriously considering packing up and running away to Sweden. Or Finland (good music there). This trip, particularly the last week has been the hardest one I’ve done.

That said, I let myself wallow in misery and then sat up and gave myself a good talking to and I’m feeling tons better and ready to finish up and go home in 9 days time!

Anyway… when I mention that I live completely alone for big chunks of the year people almost ALWAYS ask me if I get lonely. And I always say no. I’m too busy to be lonely. And usually after a week or two I really don’t feel lonely at all. I mean I miss the people I care about and I treasure their messages and updates, but they send fewer and fewer messages and I send fewer and fewer replies.

Thinking about it, I realised that what people don’t realise is that there are two kinds of loneliness.

1: ‘I want people around me’ loneliness

This is what most people see as the definition of lonely. It’s where you want people to do things with and spend time with you. This one hits when i see something interesting and there’s nobody there to tell about it. I’m lucky in that I’m pretty well connected out here and there’s usually someone back home within an sms or a phone call or even a Facebook message’s reach (Facebook is a topic of its own. I hate it but I’m totally addicted…)

2: Cosmic-lonely type loneliness

This is the one that more people battle with, although they usually get confused and compensate by surrounding themselves with people. Cosmic-lonely is that feeling of not fitting anywhere. it’s where you are all alone no matter how many people are there, almost like you’re in a glass bubble and nobody experiences the world the way you do. I think this is why the Truman Show had the effect it did – people feel disconnected, like everything is some weird illusion that might melt away and reveal that… I don’t know, the Matrix is real?

This one is best dealt with on a nice warm evening (there’s been a mega cold front and I’m yearning for warmth so much right now) sitting in the bush, and thinking about why you feel this way. If you can’t make yourself feel better by surrounding yourself with people, you make a lot of progress in picking apart why you feel so alone.

The solution, as far as I can see, is in self-discovery, thinking about who you are and what is acceptable and unacceptable, generally getting to know yourself – not the person the world sees but the person you are under all that (harder than it sounds as the two are usually totally meshed together and interwoven). Once that happens and you start to feel comfortable in your own skin then the cosmic-lonely doesn’t hit as often, or as hard.

The other night I had a moment of cosmic-lonely when I realised that a friendship I treasured had come to a natural end. As CG and I always say it’s a moment of “We’re lonely souls doomed to walk the earth alone for all eternity. Or 80-odd years. whichever comes first.”

And I sent a message to a friend to say that I’d had a realisation, and that it made me so so lonely. Then I had a cup of tea and it was all ok again.

which was the truth. I had to sit and calm down and give myself the required mental kick in the pants and then I was more resolved and more comfortable with life than I had been.

Of course he confused lonely-type 1 and type 2 and worried about me.

So the answer?

Yes, I do get lonely, but I think it’s a good thing. Because if you don’t feel lonely very often then you’re probably buried things that need to be sorted out.

Go find a nice rock and have a cup of tea. Trust me it’s worth it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm alive!

The power is back! Funny story that... involving raining glass, explosions and a really entertaining incident with a farmer. I will write about them if it ever warms up enough for my fingers to type more than a sentence without cramping... and when I catch up a bit more of work!

In the meantime, Luke rescued me from the latest in a string of pretty unbelievable bad luck (I'm hoping has digging through the sludge was worth it, either way I refuse to spend another year here) and i've rediscovered the joy of being connected to the world in general.

It's been a very tough week and I'm trying my best to stay positive and not end up under my bed hiding from life (too many Parktown Prawns). I wrote out a list of things to be happy about and I found that the list just kept going and going until it got too dark to write (there was no power at that stage) which is pretty cool!

I also had an awesome chat with some folks back home today and the kudu came and said hi outside my window.

Life isn't good, but it's not too shabby right now.

Long may it last!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Until further notice

The universe hates me. Or at least takes a perverse sense of pleasure in confusing me!

In short, I (the one who NEVER goes to the doctor) ended up in enough pain to go to the doctor(s) on Friday. And they were SO nice! I generally hate going to the doctor as I tend to pick up weird tropical diseases and I have to diagnose and prescribe my own treatment, take it to the doctor with the list of symptoms and demand the correct prescription (I think they hate me too), but these ones were kind and gentle and taught me a bunch of new Afrikaans words...

Plus they claimed direct from medical aid. In Joburg not many do and you have to pay and then claim back and it's a bit stressful if you don't really know what's wrong and then they have to amputate a leg and it's a week before payday, you know?

So on Friday afternoon I was mildly fuzzy from painkillers, but elated at the nice doctors, the new Afrikaans vocab I was building up, the discussion I'd had with one of them over the ethics of shooting baboons. I was semi-wondering if I could just drive down here whenever I get sick or need a checkup, or else I'd have to move here (the people are nice, the shopping is amazing, the traffic is awful but not as bad as back home...).

After all that the storm of the century hit (well not really, that was on Tuesday, but there was another big storm) and as usual the power went out. I'm used to that, after all there are always big storms this time of year and they generally plunge me into darkness and then the power goes on the next morning/early afternoon. This year for some reason the power has been staying on, so I guess I'd been hoping for too much that it might do that for another two weeks.

The lights came back on after an hour or so, but the plug-points (which are linked up to some lights) didn't. I thought nothing of it and went to bed. The next morning, no power. The rest of the day... nope... the next day... nada.

It's never really bothered me too much before because I can always shuffle my day around a bit, work without power, I don't mind cold showers and there's  a gas stove so I don't starve or anything. If my food spoils I have enough in tins and that sort of thing to last me for days before that's a problem (the other bonus of not eating meat out here).

This time I realised just how bad the situation is... No power and I can't keep my samples frozen (this has been rectofied by my filling the freezer with ice and burying the samples somewhere in the middle). I can't process the new samples I took on Friday so I have to throw them out. I can take about 25% of the measurements I need (as long as my laptop stays charged) the rest need power. I can't boil the kettle which means I'm battling a sickness-headache coupled with caffeine-withdrawal.

I actually have no idea what I can do. I considered taking everything to a neighbour but I'm afraid to take the equipment over some of those roads. I can't take everything back to Joburg because I haven't got permits to do that and the offices aren't at heir most efficient right now.

So I'm currently in that quiet calm state of utter panic. I'm writing this in town where I'm getting my phone charged and stocking up on ice (at this rate if the freezer starts up again I'm going to have to spend weeks chiselling my samples out!

So now I just want to go home, where I don't have a parktown prawn under a box to deal with (again), where I haven't been invaded by centipedes (not millipedes), where I don't have to shower with six different spiders (I've named them all) and a frog (likewise), and where the electricity works...

Do you thing I could smuggle a couple of doctors home though? Right next to the climbing tree and Viktor?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And finally: the leafblower lady

I have many more stories to tell, but this one has been on my mind lately and knowing my tendency to forget things after i promise to write about them, I thought I’d better put you all out of your misery and post this! Be warned, it’s a long one!

On the Western side (amongst all the beautiful, BEAUTIFUL rocks) is a tiny little guest house. I’m not sure why we turned in there, but as I drove up to the house my jaw literally dropped. There, nestled in some of the most amazing outcrops I’ve ever seen (I get quite nerdy about lizard habitat) was a lovely house, surrounded by trees and a swimming pool which  giant covered stoep in front. The whole place looked like some kind of oasis and I could almost imagine the clouds (there weren’t any that day, it was flipping hot, but you know what I mean) parting and angles popping out going ‘AAAAAAhhhhhh…” Monty Python style! The rains this year have been good, last year they were almost two months late – take the pictures I posted  while ago and convert them to sepia and add a dust haze and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what this place looked like then!

The amazingness continued: the owner was more than happy to help, spoke to me in English (by then I’d spoken so much Afrikaans in the last few weeks I actually battled slightly and kept answering him in Afrikaans) and asked me how many lizards I needed.

“forty more? Ag, you’ll get that in two days here!”

The next day I went back with my traps and all the other trapping paraphernalia to find the gate closed, so I left the bakkie outside and walked up the driveway (the gate was closed but they didn’t have a wall yet) where i was greeted by the owner who was quite upset that I hadn’t told him I was coming that day as he and his wife were going into town.

“I’ll be fine! Really, I just need to go on the rocks for a few hours and I promise I won’t damage anything you don’t have to watch me!”

“I wish I’d known. LIEFIE! Lizard-girl is here!” his wife emerged from the house.

“Oh! Lizard-girl! I wish I’d known you were coming, we’re going to town...”

“I’m sorry if it’s a problem I can come back tomorrow?”

“No no no, that’s alright, come let me introduce you to the people we have working for us, if you need anything, anything at all they’ll help you!”

I was whisked off and introduced to three guys who were building or something in the grounds as well as a lady working in the house. They were told in no uncertain terms that anything I wished for had to be done as long as the owners were away. Bear in mind I usually get told to stay out the way and climb the fence if I had to rather than bothering the farmers.

Before they left the owners tried very hard to offer me tea or coffee (by now I’m totally confused and twitching to get out to the rocks before it gets too hot) and then freaked at the idea of me walking to get the bakkie and insisted on driving me all 200m to the gate. They also kept worrying about not being there and finally forced me to take their dogs with me, just in case.

The dogs turned out to be a mixed blessing. By this stage I’d been away from home for three months and I was missing my pets like crazy so it was nice to have four-legged non-reptilian company. On the other hand they tended to run after my lizards. Pretty soon though we had an understanding and they stayed back when i told them to and came when I called (I thought they were exceptionally well trained, which was quite funny as the owner claimed that they were untrained and never came when he called!) and at one stage even chased a lizard onto a trap for me!

At some stage one of the workers came and asked what I was doing and I showed him, he seemed quite interested and obviously thought I was crazy and then went off to work again.

I caught a lot of lizards and a few hours after the return of the owners from their expedition into town I went to thank them and be on my way. The owner came rushing over to see how I’d done, scoffed at the mere thirteen lizards I’d caught (‘You can do better than THAT here!’) got me to show him a lizard which made him very excited and had me showing it to everyone around.

He also refused to let me leave without giving me something to drink and invited me in for some lovely cold Coke or something and told me to take a seat.

What kind of farmer keeps white couches? I dress relatively nicely when I’m on other farms as I don’t really want to expose the world to the horrors that are my standard torn, sewed-up, dirt-stained, oil-stained, blood stained, glue stained field clothes, but still I’d been out all day, for all I know I’d sat in a mud puddle or something. Anyway we sat and I perched as little of me on the seat as possible while juggling a lapful of cat and a glass of juice. the owner (I hesitate to call him farmer, but owner sounds so… formal, I’ll call him Bob.) Anyway Bob immediately started interrogating me on what I’d seen.

So I told him about the birds and the insects and when that didn’t get the desired response I mentioned a few bokkies I’d seen. he got very excited and started writing all of the names down. At one stage there was something he hadn’t seen before and he rushed off and found a field guide and showed me the pictures so I could confirm that yes, I’d seen a… I don’t remember, I think it was just a reedbuck or something. finally he sent me on my way with a reminder to “Look after my lizards!”

Over the next few weeks I went there at least twice a week and got the majority of the rest of my lizards. Bob was really nice and even showed me some other sites and how to get to them (for the record, rock-climbing up a sheer rock face turned out to be safer than his route, but moving on) and got to know them quite well. They were actually new to the area, and originally came from Joburg, but had bought a little farm to retire on once their kids had grown up. Bob had grown up on a farm near Bulawayo and loved that this area reminded him of home, while I’m pretty sure his wife put up with it for his sake – she reminded me of my mom a lot: loving nature as long as it didn’t ever get too close. Bob had actually built paths around their land so that he could get to the pretty places without too much effort (I took them once. Turns out a recently cleared bush-path that hasn’t been at least driven over to compact it is a surefire way to learn dune-boarding – minus the board).

One day I packed up to go home, thanked Bob’s wife, refused the offer of lunch (farmer’s wives like to feed me) and stayed to chat to her and have something to drink as usual. It was the first time I’d spoken to her alone as Bob was always bouncing around, showing me plants and tree agamas and they way he’d decorated the guest house and where he saw some or other animal. So I stood in her kitchen, trying not to touch anything and chatting about the weather and how I wasn’t trapping very many lizards as the drought had hit the local population hard.

I think it was a combination of heat, frustration, having someone to talk to and the fact that she reminded me of my mother, but out of nowhere I burst into tears and said something along the lines of “I just want to go home now.”

Next thing I knew she’d whisked the glass out of my hand, made me take out my traps again and lead me around the house, showing me all the places she often saw lizards. I ended up staying for another few hours and catching quite a few lizards while she rand around pointing out areas. At some stage I heard a terrible noise and rushed over to see what had happened: Bob’s wife was absolutely terrified of lizards, but she’d been watching me chasing them onto traps, and so she’d seen a lizards near one and tried to help me. As she didn’t want to get too close, she had grabbed the nearest tool (leafblower) turned it on and tried to use it to herd lizards. It didn’t really work, but I was very touched by the fact that she was trying so hard to help me!

And that is the saga of Bob and the Leafblower Lady, probably the closest I’ve had to family out here!

Oh and Kath, rather than the banjos, here are two songs I’ve herd quite often around here, so you might want to listen to them instead. I take no responsibility for any side effects!


Funny story to this one, I was at a party before I left and was feeling sick and so I went home. Next thing I get a million messages from people saying I’d missed it… Strange people back home…

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The bushpig guy

I’ve been working on writing about one of my encounters with some of the children who live here, but it got long and depressing, so I figured I’d finally tell you the story of the Bushpig Guy.

Last year the other student as here for two weeks while I was working very hard and not catching lizards due to the horrible drought. I had told her about the other side of the conservancy where I’d taken a detour once for some reason (might have been a geocache but I’m not sure) and wound up trying to drive along while taking pictures of some of the most beautiful rocks ever (I managed to do this without incident, although the pictures didn’t come out too well).

As it was cold and threatening to rain (it was actually another month before we saw any real rain) I figured I’d show her the rocks I’d seen while chatting to the farmers about trapping there (I was desperate) and acting as translator for her (she needed a ton of sites across a large area).

It wasn’t long before we started to notice differences between the western and eastern sides. Our side has large-ish properties with several generations of farmers in one place, while that side has small properties that are usually converted into guest houses, school camp locations or hunting lodges.

The people were very different too, although not any friendlier than the farmers we knew already. These were keen to help (we found out later that the head of the governing body had sent out an email warning the landowners of our impending arrival) but often barely knew their own land. They generally sort of knew where there might be rocks, but they weren’t always sure.

On top of that the properties were so small that there was no way of sneaking in and out unobserved. Usually the farmers on the Eastern side would let me trap on their land, if I could figure out a way over the fences. They would never leave a gate open or anything.

The people on the Western side asked a lot more questions about what we were doing and why and also gave us phone numbers so they could let us in, and occasionally showed us around. Some of them, one we got deeper into the conservancy were far more what I was used to, but rather than being a bit brusque and formal they would tease me by pretending that they didn’t understand or by asking question after question until my Afrikaans ran out. As it was, although I’m more than sued to explaining my project, hers required vocabulary that i didn’t have, so I was working around words I didn’t know by describing things rather than naming them – so anything fancy was out of the question!

One guy (his staff still called him ‘baas’ which upset me) was convinced that we wanted to steal his giant garden gnome collection which he had cemented across the outcrop in his front garden. We found out later that he’d actually filled all the cracks in the rock with concrete as well so it had been a bit of a waste of time. He also threatened to get his shotgun and kept trying to interrogate the other student, even though she wasn’t south african and spoke no Afrikaans beyond ‘north’ ‘south’ ‘bathroom’ and that sort of thing. Eventually he told me to stop trying and speak English and so I made her speak for herself.

There was also the guy who was convinced that we wanted his bull, which was kind of creepy and rather grouchy looking (a bit like the owner) as well as the motel right at the entrance that defies description. All i can say is… nope, can’t. Except that I had to have my foot stamped on before i could stop giggling at the dodgy silhouettes on the walls, the animal skins stuck to the ceiling and the photographs of drunk people all over one wall. One day i will get up the courage to get photographs because nobody will ever believe me!

Anyway ne of the last places we stopped at was way off the main road, I’m not actually sure how we found it. We could see some rocks so we drove up about three little roads and found a house so we stopped to see if the owner was home. After much debate we found the front door (remarkably difficult sometimes) and knocked but nobody answered.

This isn’t too unusual, people are often not around, nobody really locks their doors and i hate poking around to find them, so we went to the back of the house to see if there was someone there.

Halfway there we found a giant bathtub, painted green, surrounded by ferns and agapanthas and funny hanging plant baskets. The pipes all connected to the house, so there’s no reason to suspect that it wasn’t a fully functioning bath, just next to the house rather than in it. I’ve used outdoor showers before, and they’re amazing, but usually they also involve some kind of privacy screen or thick clump of trees or something, this was out in the open and the guy didn’t even have a gate.

We decided against exploring further and went and knocked on the front door again. This time I looked down and saw a blood-covered chunk of bone on the doorstep. I turned to the other student

“The-ah-bone-ah-weird! We have to go now!”

Before she could answer the door opened to reveal a small guy in a really dodgy tracksuit and a maltese poodle which grabbed the bone and ran off. After some spluttering I went through the usual dialogue and he was very nice, gave us directions for the easiest way to the rocks and went back into the house.

As we walked back, giggling and discussing the strangeness of it all, he reappeared behind us.

“Hey, do you girls want to see something?” My mind was screaming NO!!! but he’d spoken in English and the other girl agreed immediately so we followed him back to the house where he vanished and re-emerged with a baby bushpig!

It was the cutest thing I’ve ever ever seen, tiny with little baby bushpig patterns and hardly squealing at all! He let me hold it, but it didn’t like me much and I gave her back to him where she settled down and went to sleep. Apparently her mother had died and so he took her in as she was too young to survive. Having encountered a few in the field I shudder to think of having her as an adult, but she was really really cute!

I didn’t get a picture as I didn’t have my camera that day, although I went and knocked on the door whenever I went back there to trap lizards. I never saw him again.

And I lived in terror of arriving in time to catch him taking a bath.


Warning: this is a cheesy cheesy post.

About 18 months ago I posted a whole long thing about friendship and how lucky I am to have such special people in my life. I’m not always the best friend that I could be, I‘m really busy, I’m away a lot, I don’t always notice what’s going on around me until my friends have found other people to talk to or else they bash me over the head and tell me to shut up.

A last week I had a really awful day. Everything went OK, but I had some realisations about things and it made me really depressed – the joy of being alone in the bush is that you’re trapped in a place with your own thoughts – things that wouldn’t usually upset me really do here because I have no distractions (except the whole farm being on fire thing. Thanks guys).

Then tonight while I talked it all through with CG on MSN, Leia on G-talk and someone else on Facebook I realised just how amazing my support system is. A lot of the time it feels like nobody even notices that I’m gone, but I realised that just because they’re living their lives doesn’t mean I don’t play a part in them, no matter how small.

A while ago I dated this guy, very briefly (very very briefly) and I wasn’t in a good place and treated him badly and we decided it was better to try and save a friendship and move on. And the other day out of nowhere I got a message from him, just checking up on me and thinking of me, and it was one of the most special things I’ve ever had – it came at just the right time! And I realised how much I don’t deserve it, I was a horrible person to him. sometimes I think we write people off without realising how much they mean to us.

So anyway long sob story over, I once again proclaim that it isn’t international friendship day, but I think that it is friendship day in my little universe.

10 things I love about my friends:

  1. I can be away for months at a time and when I get back it’s like I never left. Even now that I’m a little bit nervous about going home, I know there are people excited to see me again and that makes it not so scary!
  2. Laughter. I don’t think I have a single friend with whom I haven’t laughed until my sides hurt. It’s the most amazing experience ever.
  3. Learning: we’re all from very different walks of life and that’s OK. From friends I’ve learned about law, rocks, martial arts, investment finance, economic modelling, music, languages and life in general. Nobody ever discounts my opinion as silly because I don’t understand and I work in such  different arena, and as long as I ask questions they’re happy to help me to learn. Sometimes I get to explain things to them too. (they still think I’m crazy at times though)
  4. They’re not afraid to tell me when I overstep a boundary and not afraid to tease and accept teasing in return.
  5. We have fun. Lots of fun!
  6. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not anymore. By not having to pretend to be the Fun one, the Spontaneous one or the Quirky one I find that I am actually fun, spontaneous and quirky anyway and I don’t have to stress about it!
  7. They go along with my crazy schemes. That takes courage, determination and complete insanity! I’m’ lucky to have them!
  8. Wine on rooftops.
  9. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone and suddenly realised you’ve been talking for more than a few hours – that’s what we do!
  10. Acceptance. I’m a bit odd at the best of times. I have a family that works on a Sunday morning and can’t wait up for me on a Saturday, yet I’ve never had a problem finding someone to offer me a couch or a spare bedroom. I get weird illnesses (occupational hazard of working with animals) and they ever complain if I change my RSVP because I can’t actually make it out the door without collapsing. I get angry when we watch documentaries, I’m obsessed with guitar hero. And they love me anyway!

I think we don’t appreciate the people around us enough, so if you want to list special things about your friends, I name this official Friendship Appreciation Day. Just let me know!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

things not to say in a room full of farmers!

So today was the annual meeting of all the landowners in the area. I go along every year partly to represent the university and partly to meet farmers with rocks on their land. To tell the truth all I’ve ever really got out of it is a bizarre Afrikaans vocabulary (most of the meeting is in Afrikaans), some sleep while they bicker over levies and security requirements and many pages of doodles.

Tonight was different. I was invited along as one of three guest speakers and told that although the meeting began at 3:30 I didn’t have to sit through the usual stuff but could go along at 5 in time to speak. I planned on getting there earlier to do my usual job representing the oh-so-hallowed university, but then it turned out that a combination of bad roads and rain meant driving for 20km along what was effectively a potholed and rutted mud-slick. So it took me a while longer than I’d planned so I snuck in at 4:45 and tried to find a seat without being noticed.

The chairman spotted me and paused, mid-discussion to yell out a welcome to me. I waved and tried to ignore the WHOOSH of every head turning towards me. Fortunately someone moved up and cleared a seat for me and I sat down quickly. The woman introduced herself as the chairman’s wife.

‘I’ve heard so much about you! What’s happening now is they’re still discussing issues, so you’re welcome to listen, it’ll be another fifteen minutes or so. Otherwise you’re welcome to sit outside, have some coffee…”

Anyone who knows me will know that I got mildly excited at the prospect of coffee and she offered to show me where it was. And then the weird behaviour continued; rather than leave me to it, she made herself a cup of (ric)coffee (beggars, choosers, you know?) and asked if i wanted to sit inside or outside. and she stayed with me. it was so strange.

When the other speakers arrived I was introduced and we all chatted along with the owner of the lodge we were at and his family (all very very German, Hans, Heidi and Hermann and their awesome dog as well as a bunch of German staff who had the scariest lumo-blue eyeshadow I‘ve ever seen). I learned a lot about the area first from the chairman’s wife who pointed out the shape of the land and how you an tell it used to be a tobacco farm as well as swapping stories of the strange farmers and the different sides of the conservancy being so different. Apparently its being separated to have independent governing bodies on each side which is fair enough considering the bickering between the sides at the previous meetings.

Apparently from tobacco farming (the area was a huge tobacco area until the industry collapsed here in the 70’s or 80’s or something) the new owners rehabilitated the land (beautifully might i add, if you can ignore the prickly-pear they were cultivating in pots around the braai area and the bonsai Aap-se-tert that was Hans’s pride and joy) and turned it into a hunting lodge. At some stage while listening to the Parks board people discussing venemous snakes while the Germans discussed German dialects (in German) there was a pause.

“Was that a gunshot?” Hans shrugged


“But who’s out today?” asked Heidi. “We don’t have guests this weekend and Jaco across at the other lodge doesn’t have anyone either.”

“Oh well. We’ll just have to go hunt some poachers later.” and the conversations resumed.

Once the meeting ended (it was an hour-long fifteen minutes) we set up a laptop and projector (with the assistance of a flower-pot) and the first speaker got started (once one of the farmers figured out that the bathroom was right behind the speaker and spent ten minutes trying to get the door open). He was a nice guy, very keen on what he was talking about and absolutely unable to either change his tone of voice or make eye contact with anyone. His discussion on changing legislation to protect and conserve the area made for a lively discussion as he had the wind a bit knocked out of his sails to learn that the entire area is under a land claim right now and so nothing he said can be put into practise until it’s settled. Of course the farmers had fun trying to figure out the loopholes and so on until one of them got very agitated and started screaming a bunch of things about a bunch of people and eventually ended up using a word that I don’t think is legal anymore.

For a room full of conservative farmers to go dead-quiet and a collective gasp… it was THAT bad. The chairman hustled the speaker off the stage to a smattering of applause and sent me up.

Here’s the fun part. I speak to scientists regularly. I speak to laymen regularly. I don’t really spend much time telling farmers about what I actually do and I had no idea how to pitch a talk at them. I mean laymen with practical experience but no theoretical background, a shaky grasp on English and a bunch of superstitions? Fun times! I had considered speaking in Afrikaans but wussed out ad made a slideshow with a bunch of photos and figured I’d wing it.

It worked quite well, they paid attention and didn’t fall asleep and I told a lot of stories of the things lizards do, which ones bite harder, which areas they live in, that sort of thing. I got them giggling at the idea of the lizard treadmill and at lizards outsmarting me (‘And you’re doing a PhD?’ thanks for the catcall Mrs Parks-board-guy’s-wife!) I even re-enacted my jumping out from behind a bush screaming, and asked the lucky spectators to identify themselves.

It was all going quite well… You must realise I don’t see people often (i.e. at all) around here. And after a while I start singing to myself, thinking out loud, talking to myself… you know…

So at some stage I mentioned something and they chuckled and I thought

‘Great, now they all think I’m cRaZy’ (add weird vocal effects to the cRaZy)

and the entire room BURST out laughing. I think the guy form the bathroom incident may have wet his kortbroek.

Did I say that out loud? Oh yes I did.

Either way I got some pretty enthusiastic applause at the end and they were all awake (just in time for a LONG talk on other legislation that wouldn’t actually affect the area at all) before the official end-of-year braai. By the it was 7pm so I made my excuses and went home to measure lizards and get away from the people who think I’m insane.

Dilemma dilemma…

So my connection has spent the last couple of days being mildly annoying, today it gave up completely so I’m feeling all… disconnected.

Today is not about the adventures of Lizard-Girl – after a day of a tractor driving in circles around the house (I’m not used to hearing ‘traffic’ of any kind so I found it unbearably loud and irritating and besides, they set the farm on fire yesterday without telling me first (it’s firebreak season and good cool-burn weather as it’s STILL raining) and when I asked them what they were doing they kind of giggled and said “Caught us red handed? Heh heh…” in a dodgy old farmer kind of way.

I went to yell at the tractor drivers today and they asked to speak to my husband. I’m starting to think seriously about taking my sword along next time I go to speak to someone.

Anyway to the dilemma: IF all goes according to plan i should be back in Joburg for the last weekend in November for my cousin’s wedding and to acclimatise to the colder temperatures and general noise before i have to handle far FAR worse at the Killers concert (I’m so excited!!!!).

I have also heard that the person working for me at the vet has been away almost as much as me in the last few months and she’s away that weekend, so the vets have begged me to work.

So schedule:

9am – 12:30am work at vet. bear in mind that the clients like to be friendly and chat, and as I’m usually rather dishevelled, exhausted and antisocial on a Saturday morning (gotta love Friday nights!) I can’t really dress up too much without the level of comment making me use some of those vicious anti-farmer moves (note to self, leave sword at home). Besides, you never know when something disgusting will happen at the vet and ruin your clothes (or cover them in fur).

1pm: Wedding of the year! I’m actually quite excited as I think the bride and groom are awesomely suited to each other and I haven’t seen that side of the family for ages! I’m guessing I will be changing at work before going across, it’s only about 5-10 minutes drive.

Following that there’s an afternoon tea reception 9here’s hoping there’s coffee!) and then I will probably go off to CGs house in preparation of the great returning-home celebrations (note to self, warn family in advance that they will not be seeing me until I’ve been home for at least a week. they tend to forget this every year).

Dilemma: how the heck do I go from vet-girl to wedding guest to semi-goth girl with minimal facilities/time to change? I’ve been trying to plan an outfit which is horrible difficult as I haven’t got much here and as I’m sure you know trying on is an absolute must in the outfit-planning process. Luke suggested (and I quote) “A chick-suit” which I violently disagreed with. I have a shirt and shoes picked out, but none of my pants will work and I’ll be way too degirlied to handle a skirt. Plus I have no idea what’s appropriate for an afternoon wedding, all the afternoon weddings I’ve been to have involved an evening reception so its mega-formal. What do you wear for post-wedding tea?

To make things more difficult, there is a dress code that we have to include something tartan. Nelspruit wasn’t’ particularly useful in this regard, so I’ve enlisted the help of my super-awesome cousin to get that sorted. I would have asked my mom but we don’t often agree on anything style related and I have nightmares like this:


Or worse… this:


I mean are they backwards or forwards here? I don’t really want a butt in front…

So yes, any (and all) input is greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

This should keep you busy!

I’m working on an epic adventures-of post, but it’s late and I’m tired and I figured i should post something today to remind people that I’m not actually all that crazy…

So the other day I took a few photos (to celebrate the single non-rainy day this week) so I’ll try to post them as well.

My apologies for the quality, my connection isn’t the best so I have to shrink them a lot, plus I used a little camera rather than my big scary one!


Meet my kudu (or is it kudus?) This little guy was born while I was here about two years ago and they like to hang out in the garden. Not the best photo but I had to stalk them through the bushes to get it!


Nope, no funny camera angles, this is the gentle type of slope I’ve been working on. Quite far removed from the nasty cliffs I have to climb when trapping doesn’t go well, but this site has some fun boulders to climb over at the top! And don’t be deceived, the slop may be gentle, but it’s slippery, without decent shoes and careful route planning you can slide a long long way down!


This is the view out North from the top of one of the hills. The hill in the distance is the one with the first outcrop that i discovered. The road there is the one that I run on sometimes.


This is the north-eastish view from a bit lower down. The house I stay in is about a third of the way diagonally down from the top left corner, if you’re lucky you can spot it!


It stopped raining the other morning to let the fog have a turn. This was taken at around midday. When the weather gets miserable here it really goes all-out! This is the view from my front door, just by the way.


Depressing much? I think I need a hot cup of tea after remembering this day!


The rocks on the right are one of the first in a string of outcrops, all in easy walking distance from the house. These guys really hate me and they freak out and run whenever they see me. There’s a baby next to the one in the middle but it’s hard to see at this resolution. He’s very cute, just for the record!


The zebra also like to ‘guard’ the study sites from evil scientists like me.


And in case you were wondering, there’s the house! Actually that’s the bathroom, the house is behind it. The rocks on the back right are where I took the first few photos!

So that’s Home. Hope you guys enjoyed the whirlwind tour!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My friends have no faith in me

Exhibit A – earlier this evening, on G-chat:

Leia: Hello!!
me: hi!
  guess what I did today!!!
  why do you feel like a dimwit?
Meg: What'd you do????
me: went shopping in nelspruit!
Leia: and....?
me: and went into a veldskoen shop...
  they had awesome non-veldskoen shoes!
I got makeup, and shoes and clip-in blue hair…
Leia: wow... did you buy any awesome non-velskoen shoes???
me: yip
Leia: ;)
me: they're white leather slop-type things, very cute :)
Leia oh awesome!
  Not velskoenny at all!!
me: did you doubt me?
Leia: for a second, i really did!!!

Exhibit B – EEbEE thought i was seeing things when I tried to send him a poo emoticon on G-chat

eebees milestone2

And they think I’m the crazy one!