Menu Close


“I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky. ” ― Sharon Olds

Shifting Boundaries & the Elephant Debate

Last year National Geographic reiterated that 30,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year. That’s an elephant every 18 minutes. These are the most up-to-date figures we have on the rate of their decline, though the findings of a comprehensive survey of elephant populations throughout Africa, The Great Elephant Census (GEC), will be made public later this year. (Some countries’ figures have already been released – Tanzania’s elephant population went from an estimated 109,000 in 2009, to 51,000 in 2015). At present, the African elephant population sits approximately at an ever-declining 500,000 — a quarter of what it was a century ago.

With projections like these who could dispute the urgency of the situation and the need for communities and governments, citizens and officials to unite and preserve these creatures. (The GEC findings will undoubtedly help bring the matter to the policy-making fore). And yet, that all depends on who you speak to. For many these numbers are distressing, to others they’re understandable, given ever-expanding human populations. And there’s the rub.

Continue Reading

A ghastly beauty

OprahWith that loping hyena gait she ducks out from beneath the thicket surrounding her den and into the clearing. Backlit, she stands in a frame of a near angelic corona of late afternoon sun. The light is ideal, as is my perch on the open Land Rover. I hesitate, swallowing her bitter image first, allowing her to pass through the frame of my lens. Where once sat the peak of an ear, now runs a smooth, pale scar from the back of her skull over a rough bed of skin toward her jaw — a taught, hairless suturing. A small, uncovered slit opens to the cavern of her right ear. On the opposite side a slight nub angles out to form a inadequate shield from wind and flies. Such startling omissions render her repulsive and deformed.

We call her Oprah because, despite everything, she has survived. And like her namesake she has done more than just that. Mothering at least two litters of pups in the past three years, she is one of the most prolific contributors to the most successful hyena clan in the area. The same clan we saw chase six lions from a kudu carcass, one which regularly keeps pace with wild dogs to prosper from their hunts. A clan that watched one of their own pups be devoured by a leopard from the base of the very jackalberry that provides their den with afternoon shade — the same clan which devoured the raining aftermath of the pup’s carcass. They embody the demented determination that affords hyenas deference from their fellow predators, and condemnation from humans. Love them or loath them, hyenas are the most successful predators in this region and in the wider Okavango Delta. Oprah is at the helm of this clan. Continue Reading

Visiting the Himbas

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The women sit in the sand on the edge of their homestead — a collection of eight stick and mud dome hovels. To our north runs the Kunene river, the border between Namibia and Angola and in every other direction: hundreds of miles of barren Namib Desert. A few children crouch near an older girl who feeds twigs into a small fire. Blankets cover the women’s shoulders, loosely shrouding their bare chests. The sun idles toward the red dunes that flank the valley. The wind picks up a little. I reach into my bag for a sweatshirt. They draw their blankets more tightly. Continue Reading

Conversation Snakes

Ground Hornbill“I respect snakes”, declares the Australian woman over early morning breakfast. She and her husband are sitting around the campfire sipping coffee while I, their ever-prescient hostess, flip their toast over a patch of coals. In my half-awake attempt at conversation, I have once again confessed awe at the series of photos she took the day before. While enjoying a game drive she caught the fluent progression of a ground hornbill (one of the largest land dwelling birds in southern Africa and certainly one of the strangest) swallowing a full-grown puffadder. It took a few backward head thrusts to dispose of the snake, “Just like spaghetti!” she had gushed. This morning she’s already on to how she deals with the dead ones on the farm and how the ones you think are dead are probably faking it.

Managing a camp for tourists in the wilds of the Okavango Delta for nine months of the year has cured me of many-a misconception about the bush, but had I seen just the final photo of her series, I’d likely think that a disproportionately large and extravagantly patterned tongue hissed from the menacing beak of that hornbill. Could you blame me for arguing the point — having seen the evidence with my very own eyes?

But I digress, as we so often do. As I said, I merely mentioned her photos and the woman began her praise of snakes. If I could name a single thread wefting throughout my many encounters with tourists of any and all persuasions, it’s the ricocheting nature of conversation. Rarely do we care to drive the core of a topic, preferring rather to dwell in its outer-realms, exploring its manifold tangents. Continue Reading

Health & Wellness & a little Kindness

I just barked at my husband while executing the final set of strong womanexcruciating mountain climber push-ups — part of an exercise regime I’ve been dedicated to for most of the year. I never tell people it’s called Bikini Body because I hate the connotation to pat beauty magazines and the general popular culture that touts beauty and fitness over actual health and self-acceptance. But there it is. It’s finally out: no matter how often I admonish websites and popular media, whether or not I scoff at the characteristic Kardashian worship of self-image or reflect on the unrealistic, superficial idolatry that institutions like Hollywood or Victoria’s Secret perpetuate — and no matter how many miles I live from that kind of “civilisation” — I am a woman shaped and moulded by the cultural phenomena I so overtly detest. I deny them, while I actively uphold their values.

Continue Reading

Fear and traveling through southern Africa

Robert_MugabeIn the midst of a month-long road trip through southern Africa I begin reading The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe. It just so happens to appear on the hand-me-down Kindle I am given by a friend. It’s an account by journalist, Peter Godwin, as he returns to his native Zimbabwe to experience, first-hand, the outcome of the 2008 elections. What he and millions of others hope will be the end of Mugabe’s twenty-eight-year reign. Mugabe is defeated by the opposition party’s Morgan Tsvangirai but only by a narrow margin (though accusations of bullying, rigging and fraud are rife). Still, it’s enough to warrant a run-off election, one which Mugabe, predictably, wins. In a gesture of appeasement, the re-elected president brokers a power-sharing agreement between himself and the opposition and Tsvangirai is sworn in as Prime Minister. But it’s just a thinly veiled performance and his reign of terror continues as robustly as ever.

In Zimbabwe I am disturbed by an interaction I have while visiting one of the country’s great National Parks, Hwange. Over a period of four nights in a luxury bush camp, we became well acquainted with our guide. He is one of the best guides we’ve encountered in Africa: hungry to learn, intelligent, personable. Throughout our stay we dance around politics, until our last day when Johnson* hitches a ride with us back to his home town of Victoria Falls following news of his grandmother’s death. Until then I’ve only spoken to exiled Zimbabweans about the politics of their country; mostly they have been white and evicted in one way or another: forced off a family farm by war veterans or other opportunists, or driven away by the collapse of a business. They have nothing but nostalgia for the bygone era of Africa’s breadbasket; and anger at its present state of dissolution. The car guards I speak with on occasion in Cape Town are often trained professionals — teachers or lawyers — forced into whatever undignified informal work they can find abroad. All have been in concert: Mugabe is, was, and always would be, a monster. Continue Reading

A quality shoe

bootsIt was seven years ago now in a southern California suburb. My mother brought them home in a department store shopping bag that, looking back, tactically belied their true-grit nature. She pulled out one, two and wore them on her hands like awkward oven mitts: a pair of mid-shin high Frye cowboy boots. Now I’m sitting on a porch in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, a spot that’ll soon be drenched in morning sun. It’s summer and yes, I’m thinking about my boots.

There are few objects that have lived with me as long. Now they are perfectly creased — the rise of leather slouched ideally to suit me. Now I turn them upside-down before I slip a foot inside — a habit of living in rural, sandy soils. I think about scorpions and snakes and geckos nesting in the toes, I have to. I’m not sure one can love an object, but if ever there was object to love, these brown, sun-worn, perfectly creased boots are it. Continue Reading

The art of failure

Van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone

Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone

Many literary and arts publications warn it could take up to six months to respond to your submission. And there are other warnings: “We receive thousands of submissions and are unfortunately unable to offer individual feedback” — just in case you were expecting something personally tailored and human. There is an art to the polite and economic rebuff: “We read every story, poem and essay submitted to us carefully, and we delight in publishing both established and emerging writers. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your work for publication at this time. Good luck with your writing.” Let me be clear — I don’t blame them! Let me also be honest (as one well acquainted with rejection) — the generic reply stings no less for its genericism. And unlike specific, pointed, incisive criticism, it leaves the artist dangling in mid-air with no sense of the quality or potential or the absolute baloney of her work. Continue Reading

Searching for truffle oil (meditations on life & luxury in Le Bon Marché)

I had been clutching a small glass jar of pistachio mousse after surfacing from my ten-minute expedition to the dairy isle, when — I can be pretty certain — I saw Sofia Coppola examining the label on a box of miso soup. If I had learned nothing of consequence by the end of our second to last day in Paris, I could at least report that Sophia Coppola is a discerning reader of nutrition labels.

Ok, this wasn’t just any old grocery store — this was a labyrinth of high-end fine foods, a proverbial palace of products cured and collected from across the globe. Somewhere one completes one’s shopping experience with a glass of icy chardonnay and salmon sashimi, or — take your pick — crostinis and caviar. Eat your rustic, plebeian heart out Whole Foods, this was Le Bon Marché of Paris. Continue Reading

Backyard Traveller

mantid sack

Several years ago I read a book about a woman who decides to explore her backyard for a full year and write about it — not her immediate backyard, but the streams and hills and mountains within an easy day’s hike. Once she commits herself to this task she starts turning over rocks, examining root systems, taking the less-trodden footpaths, and she begins to notice things she never had before: praying mantis egg sacks, bull frogs flattened by parasitic water bugs, the evidence of industrious mice, beavers and birds. Continue Reading

Older Posts