Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts

23 September 2012

Adventures in South Africa

I'm spending the better part of a year living in South Africa. If you're anything like me, you probably harbor pre-conceived notions and yet wonder what the land is really like.

I've lived and worked in Europe and South America. Each country has a 'personality' not to be defined by or confused with their nation's politics. A national personality is both amalgamation and generalization, a distilled broad-stroke synthesis of millions of people.

South Africa… I've never visited a land whose personality so closely matches that of North America– the friendliness, hardiness, sense of humor, spirit of industry and entrepreneurism, a determination to conquer prejudice, and the will to persevere when times get tough. And, everyone speaks English.

To many Americans, South Africa must appear exotic, even strange, but I have a surprise for you– it's more familiar, more 'ordinary', more like America than you can believe. To be sure, I've spent almost all my time in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (birthplace of the Zulus), which is like a tourist spending their entire visit in one American state and thinking all of the US is like (shudder) Florida. KZN is the most English of the nine provinces, so my perceptions may differ from parts of the country that are dominated by, say, Dutch Afrikaners.


People pepper their speech with Zulu words. I love the expressive sound of isiZulu– the actual name of the Zulu language. For example, a rattletrap vehicle is a skadonk and a bad guy is a sigebengu (prounced 'skabanguh'). The onomatopoeia word for tractor is gunda-gunda… anyone who's familiar with older farm machinery can't help but smile.

One word I adopted is muti (moo-tea), meaning medicine, but it can also mean any liquid put to good use, such as 'dishwashing muti'. Americans use at least one isiZulu word without realizing it– fundi, an expert.

South meets South

Three weeks ago, our friend Geri came to visit. She's the epitome of the Southern lady, soft-spoken and very easy to underestimate as some have learned to their surprise or dismay. She travels perhaps twice a year and accepted Cate's invitation to visit.

Fortunately Geri travels well and is patient, since the textbook publisher seemed to ramp up the workload at the same time the deadline loomed like a plunging vulture. But family was good to us, Tig and Sue, who lent us their home. Geri, Cate and I lived on the beach, sunbathed and waded in the Indian Ocean, and visited the Oribi Gorge, a scenic combination of horticulture, agriculture, and wildlife. Geri rode a Segway along the beach in Durban and into Moses Mahbida Stadium.

Thanks to friends Dave and Shirley, we visited Springbok Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve. Among other bragging rights, Nambiti boasts the 'Big 5', the five most dangerous animals to hunt. South Africa's bank notes portray the Big Five: rhino, elephant, lion, cape buffalo, and leopard. This is even more impressive when you realize the Egyptians considered the hippo and crocodile to be the most fearsome. These aren't animals to fool around with– even the ostrich has been known to kill men.

Four out of Five

On my first visit to the game reserve weeks earlier, locals told me I was amazingly lucky to see the Big 5, all except the leopard. And these weren't distant sightings: A mother and child rhinoceros galloped along side the Land Cruiser. We were close enough to grazing cape buffalo to see oxpecker birds cleaning their coats. Only days later, bad tempered buffalo turned on a Jeep and wreaked thousands of dollars of damage upon it. And the lions– a pride of three strolled past our Land Cruiser so close you could have flicked a booger at them, had you been so foolish.

During that visit, herds of zebra and giraffe seemed to be everywhere, and it's an amazing sight to see giraffes browsing above the treetops. Cate calculated we spotted 13 different kinds of buck– the South African term for deer and antelopes– from the small bush buck, to impala, hartebeest, wildebeest, and the largest of all, the eland.

On this trip with Geri, we again saw all the Big 5 except the elusive leopards. Birds surrounded us. Bachelor rhinos eyed us warily. As we watched, mother elephants taught their calves how to uproot trees: In the winter, roots contain more nutrients than barren branches, so elephants require a goodly supply of trees to munch upon.

Normally, hippopotami soak in ponds like huge inert hogs, imitating boulders. Not this time– hippos rumbled ashore during an early morning stretch. One juvenile postured and played with another, putting on a show.

Meanwhile, Geri was busy snapping photos. For example…

You may notice a theme here. Every time Geri raised her camera, subjects would spin around and pose: "Wanna see my butt?"

One afternoon we found lions hidden in the tall grass, but a big male wandered off, his bum toward us,to check his kill because jackals were wandering the area. Minutes later he strolled back, at last facing us. Geri raised her lens and… the big lion paused and… Geri aimed her camera and… the lion squatted and…

Proceeded to take an excruciating minutes-long dump.

Cate burst out with "Dude, you need fiber."

Later– yesterday in fact– Geri and Cate found a calendar of animal butts. It looks like Geri's animals thought they were still posing for it.

When tracking, Rangers communicate 'visuals' over the radio in isiZulu so passengers don't leap out of their seats to spot the latest 'find' and scare off– or attract– the animal's attention.

Geri took great photos of a lounging jackal, rarely seen sunning. She also got a great snap of a warthog. They kneel when they graze and shuffle along on their foreknees. In another great bit of luck, rangers spotted the reserve's lone cheetah– just one cheetah in 22,000 acres– lions had killed the others.

Darkest Africa

Through poaching and hunting, populations of some big cats number in two and three digits. Elephants are threatened in many places, but may be stabilized. The black rhinoceros is critically endangered and other species are believed to be extinct. For what? For their horn, that bit of keratin thought to be an aphrodisiac in some Asian cultures.

Speaking of cultures, to Westerners, elephants, rhinos, and hippos are great lumbering beasts, but to Africans, they are elegant, powerful, imbued with history and mystique. They're like bison and bears to the American Indian, creatures to be respected and protected in a modern and hazardous environment.

This is the Africa of legends, of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Ryder Haggard, and perhaps of Lee Falk, Lyman Young, and Wilbur Smith. Like our state and national forests, this commitment preserves and conserves habitat so that species– some numbered in the hundreds, some in the dozens or fewer– have a narrow chance to survive and perhaps thrive.

So what do I think of South Africa? I love it. I love it here. I wouldn't be surprised if you would too.

01 July 2012

Loaded Magazines

by Leigh Lundin

As you may have noticed from posting datelines below my recent articles, I'm traveling, which is taking me through South Africa. At the moment, I'm being unforgivably rude by closeting myself in a corner of my friends' beach home as I dash out this article, the result of a sudden decision to take down my intended column for today and slap up a new one… with good reason.

The friends are Tig and Sue and their house in Port Shepstone overlooks the Indian Ocean, where in the distance, whales are breaching as I write. Yesterday, they give us a tour of the Oribi Gorge where the deer and the antelope play… or rather monkeys and impala, the real kind, not those bred by Chevrolet.

This sounds exotic to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but what I've found more amazing is how comfortable, how natural South Africa feels, at least this province of KwaZulu-Natal, birthplace of the Zulus.

Family helps of course, and everyone has made me feel like family. There's English, too– North Americans don't have to struggle with phrase books because everyone speaks more English English than most of us do. S.A. politics are as mad as America's and our sense of humor shares the same DNA. Except for occasional vervet monkeys scampering through the back garden, you couldn't possibly find this beautiful land all that different from ours.

So with abject apologies to my gracious and forgiving host and hostess, on with the article.

Loaded Magazines

One of the last things I did before journeying across the seas was to forward subscriptions for Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. Thus, I was happily able to enjoy RT Lawton's bail bond twins and Janice Law's 'Medium' in the last issue and Rob's story 'Brutal' in the current one. Damn, SleuthSayers has great authors, don't we?

Reading these stories reinforces how good these writers are. If anything, their talents are understated, because I find myself marveling and taking a sort of proprietary pride in knowing them. And before I forget, Janice Law has a historical coming out later this year, which I'll ramble about in an upcoming article.

AHMM Alfred Hitchcock

I've read all but two stories in this, the September issue. I know, I know… the magazine industry dates their periodicals like automobile companies… is the 2013 Dodge Viper out yet?

Rob Lopresti, as usual, received mention on the cover for his wicked story 'Brutal'. It's sly, it's funny, it's a groaner… I can't say more without giving away too much.

The story reminds me of one of John Lutz's parables. There's an author's adage to heap misery on the hero until he can't take any more… and then dump on even more. You might say both writers turned that adage on its head.

Read AHMM to see what I mean. But wait, there's more…

Jolie McLarren Swann, otherwise known as James Lincoln Warren, graced the previous (August) issue with 'Inner Fire', the Black Orchid Novella Award-winning takeoff on Nero Wolfe, which I was previously permitted to critique– actually rave about. You do not want to miss this story.

EQMMEllery Queen

Although Ellery Queen inexplicably omitted SleuthSayers authors in the current August issue (don't ask me to explain why the magazines' dates differ), they do contain articles by two of our friends.

Terrie Moran, our pal at Women of Mystery, has come up with a nuanced tale set in Florida. Terrie is one of those authors who never stamps out the same kind of story twice. Each seems very different from the other. Her latest seeps with research she's put into it. 'Fontaine House' reads like a southern romance… without the romance. With a pinch of love in the air, I could picture an offshoot of this story winning a RWA competition. You'll probably gulp at the end.

Melodie Johnson Howe
, our colleague at Criminal Brief, created the series Hollywood fatale Diana Poole, who appears in a new book, Shooting Hollywood, on sale at disreputable bookstores everywhere. Now I liked Diana Poole, but I love her new story, 'Losing It', a deceptive tale about a stolen shawl. I doubt most readers will come close to guessing this unusual plot; I certainly couldn't. And like I said above, you'll probably gulp at the end.

SSMM Sherlock Holmes

Jeff Baker placed a story in Sherlock Holmes #8, which I haven't seen yet. Herschel Cozine wrote a parody in the queue for December, issue #10. This is my wake-up call to subscribe.

And More Coming Up…

David Dean's scheduled for the December Ellery Queen with "Mariel."  A reprint of "The Vengeance Of Kali" will appear in an Ed Gorman edited anthology, Best Mystery Stories Of 2010.

Jan Grape co-edited an anthology released in May, Murder Here Murder There from Twilight Times Publishing, which includes her short story 'The Confession'.

Elizabeth Zelvin has a CD out. She also currently has out her third novel, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, 'Shifting Is for the Goyim', coming out on Untreed Reads very, very soon, and a story in Ellery Queen that will appear in 2013.

John Floyd has several stories in the queue… Actually John's like the British Empire… The sun never sets on John's stories– they're everywhere. John reports a story in the current Woman's World and another coming up there in August; stories coming up in future issues of Hitchcock and Strand Magazine; stories in issues #8, #9, and #11 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Mag; one in Prairie Times; several coming up at Mysterical-E; and stories forthcoming in three anthologies. John will also release a fourth collection of short mystery stories, called Deception, scheduled for next spring.

Janice Law wrote a story in Connecticut Muse, one in the most recent Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and an entry in the recent MWA anthology.

Rob Lopresti has another AHMM story about six months from now.

Readers and writers, who have I missed? Let me know and I'll add you in.

You don't have to have your literature shipped to South Africa… find them at bookstores and newsstands now.