This I am lord of the Desert Land,
And I will not leave my bounds,
To crouch beneath the Christian’s hand,
And kennel with his hounds.
– from Thomas Pringle’s Ephemerides
Oupa Kalahari, also known as Oom Sakkie (Isak), tells stories in the old tradition – a slow lyrical meander of words which gently draws you through the tale. His hands wrap his words in the air and he gently passes them to you, almost through you, without you even realizing that you have hold of them. We are listening to this bushman elder speak in a small recreation of a Bushman village just below Xaus (pronounced ‘Kaus’) Lodge.
It’s a complex thing this; how to preserve the Bushman way of life without compromising their very existence by getting stuck in the past. The team at Xaus Lodge have tried various approaches, some have failed outright and others are proving marginally successful at bridging the gap between the old and new ways. Lodge manager Richard Ilett tells me they are now pinning their hopes on helping young Bushmen to train as safari guides in the hope that job creation in the home environment will encourage them to stay and to re-engage in Bushman family life and culture. It’s a subject for another blog or piece of writing, I think, but one I will return to in some way or another. Richard’s enthusiasm and commitment to the people is encouraging. I have seen similar projects thrive with the Masaai in Tanzania and Kenya, and so I am optimistic.
I wish I had a day, no a week, to spend with Oom Sakkie , just listening at his feet, like a disciple. Here is a man on a salt pan in the middle of nowhere that has so much to tell us and teach us, with his liquid amber eyes and old wizened face.
We are in the land of the Khomani San and the Mier people where water is treated like gold and the horizon encircles us. Built on Dune 92, the lodge – a row of twelve chalets connected by wooden walkways which blend in seamlessly with the landscape – overlooks a giant salt pan. The welcome letter on our bed cites the The Kalahari as an open, honest world, which readily shares its riches with whoever seeks with an open heart.
According to the lodge managers, the Khomani San and Mier communities reached an historic land settlement agreement with the government of South Africa and SANParks in May 2002, which restored a large tract of land to the communities that had once roamed or farmed this area. The agreement saw the transfer of ownership of 50 000 hectares of land from SANParks, to the two communities who then leased the given land back to SANParks.
Lovely food, sunset drives, night drives and dune walks are all on the agenda but it’s the moments in between that I really value.
the sucking of air into the lungs ,
the burning of the stars
and the silence as it hums in your ears.
I hope my children’s hearts are flung open to these gifts and that their racing minds are able to quieten a little. Certainly I feel humbled, even silenced and so, I think I’ll write more on another day.