I love the darkness immediately preceding the dawn.
I like getting down to the camp deck early in the morning, before any other rangers or trackers are there, to make myself a cup of coffee and just sit and listen.
Those few minutes of utter peace that can be found just as the first hint of colour other than steely blue comes creeping out of the eastern horizon, do more to still everything down than the most powerful sedative ever could.
There is nothing but hope and optimistic anticipation to be found in those few precious moments. The stacatto call of the crested francolin, contrasting sharply with the distant and muted roar of a lion, combine in a wonderful synergy of natural sound to create a calm that is unique to the African morning.
I’m sure many of you have read the delightful No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series. If you haven’t yet, do so. The books revolve around the life of Precious Ramotswe, a lady detective in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, and describe the almost ubiquitous day-to-day of a developing African city in the most delightful manner.
A paragraph in the second book in the series – titled Tears of the Giraffe – struck a chord with me, and described something I have related to numerous guests that I have taken out into the bush:
The opening lines of one of the early chapters describe the sounds of a village getting going for the day; roosters crowing, cowbells clanking, a distant shout of a herdsman, and the low and muted rumble of women preparing the hot water on the central cooking fire. It was referred to as “the sound of Africa waking up”.
It struck me then as it still does now that it is a wonderfully unique thing to be able to generalize for the whole of Africa from a sleepy village in Botswana, yet that description was accurate, and at least for me can’t really be applied to any other continent. Only in Africa is there this subtle connection invisibly interwoven across and between countries, tribes, races, villages, towns, people.
Wake up in Kenya, Mali, Botswana, South Africa, Senegal, Eritrea, or anywhere in between, and the chances are high that at least some semblance of that same rural chorus will be filtering through the chill of the early morning.
Ubuntu, I guess, is maybe what it ultimately distills down to. “I am because of you.” The common but often unrecognized thread.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about an African dawn that is so much more than just the promise of a new day. It’s about a connection; to where you are, to who you are, and to the kind of belonging you can feel nowhere else. Whether this is some sort of intangible genetic memory, tracing its origins back to man’s first tentative steps as an upright hominid, it’s impossible to say.
All I know is there is something special and undefined in those precious few minutes alone in the gloom before the sun is even a suggestion in the eastern sky. The magic of it is that I – we – don’t need to give it a label. The very fact that there exists a period in the day in which nothing is more important than the present moment, in which the only really discernible feeling is the stillness within, and in which the day to come feels so full of hope and unbounded possibility, should be more than enough.
Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, puts it best: “Africa. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom and unequalled nobility… you woke up in the morning and thought, ‘Here I am where I ought to be…'”