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 mystical 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…'”
Filed under General Nature Wilderness teachings Wildlife
I think that in rural India you might also find that moment in the early morning.
I for one, also appreciate this time of the day, especially in Africa….
Nice, James. It wasn’t dawn, it wasn’t winter, but it was on the deck of Varty Camp. I’ve been here before, I thought. So, yes, we are all of us African. And it’s where I ought to be right now.
Great article. Eloquently captured feelings I felt on my safari at Kirkman’s last year. We were told by friends who had been on safari before that it would be a life changing experience and it certainly was. You have to truly experience the safari to understand the beauty and complexity of Africa.
Beautiful & oh so true! Thank you James
Everything you said is true! As Precious says “the sound of hearing Africa waking up” is so special it is hard to explain to friends who wonder why we return to Africa so often.
I’ve read the #1 Detective series and “Out of Africa”. We’ve been to Tanzania, Botswana, and of course South Africa and cherish every moment.
I was moved to tears by your article The Africa of Connection James. Stillness…?? My husband and I will be spending a week in Londolozi in August. We are looking forward to meeting you and your Londolozi family.
Great blog James. Read the whole no.1 Detective agency series. Describes Africa as we all know it. Lovely ending to your blog from Karen Blixen.
This has been my favourite blog. Having lived in Zambia for my formative years I remember everything you have written. Thank you.
It’s what I feel in the morning, down in Africa. Thank you for describing it exactly.
I LOVE all of the books in that series. Your article is so true! Being in Africa is indescribable! Anyone who has the chance to go to Africa should take the opportunity while he can. We have a friend who always wanted to go. We started discussing options with him and his wife. Then he was diagnosed with ALS. So very sad!
Thanks James! Now I know what book I must read next! I love the early mornings at Londolozi, especially when I hear that magical knock on the door! Then seeing the light and sun slowly emerge over the Sand River.
The only place I have felt the excitement to rise before the sun with true anticipation of the day. You described it so eloquently. That stillness, that presence- the present.
A fantastic blog James. I also love to go outside just as it is getting light and just surround my thoughts in the stillness and listen for bird sounds. I live in Toronto, Canada, so there are no wild animals such as you have, but it really is the most beautiful time of day. Have not read the mentioned books, but have seen “Out of Africa” and enjoyed it very much. Please enjoy the sounds of Africa for those of us who can’t. Thanks again for this thoughtful blog.
I just waking up just before a sunrise wherever I am in Africa. There is definetely something magical about the pre-dawn light and the dawn chorus that comes with it, whether it’s the sound of the river nearby or the calls of coucals, wood-doves and spotted hyenas. Still need to hear a lion roaring though.