It was late afternoon, about 5 o’clock . The heat of the day was gradually lifting. Walking up to the village to buy some cold water from the Spaza shop, I passed Deborah Marimane. Deborah is a lady who works at Londolozi taking care of a little girl who is nearly two years old. Deborah has a radiant smile and kind eyes. She had two children with her at the time, her niece and nephew. As I greeted her they smiled shyly at me and moved a few centimeters closer towards her.
Not thinking much of this I continued on my way. With a cold bottle of water in hand I then walked to the Pioneer Camp deck. It had been a busy day in camp and the deck seemed a peaceful place to sit quietly to recharge. As I let out a deep sigh of relief I began to notice the beauties of the bush around me such as a pair of francolins scuttling beneath the deck and a fish eagle flying overhead.
A sudden crack of a branch caught my attention. I was no longer alone. A herd of elephants were enjoying an evening snack on the lush plant growth along the river. A large female elephant made her way to a leafy branch of a tall Bushwillow tree. When she moved, there was a mirrored movement to her left. It was however, much smaller. Upon looking closely, I noticed a young elephant calf. When the older teenage elephants loped past, she would move a little closer to her mother. It made me think of how similar the calf’s movement was to the children walking with Deborah.
As the herd continued to feed, the little elephant became more relaxed and wandered out from the protection of her mother’s shadow. She sidled over to her cousins and joined in a game of wrestling. Suddenly the pair of francolins that were rustling beneath the deck erupted from a bush next to her. She turned and fled back to her mother in fright; her tail held straight out behind her and her ears flapping wildly, all indicative signs of an elephant in distress. Her mother did not look up from a delicious mouthful of leaves but let her trunk rest momentarily on the back of her shaken up daughter. This small gesture immediately relaxed the calf and she made her way back to her cousins to continue the game of wrestling.
The sun was on the horizon, ready to bid the day farewell. A golden glow radiated off the surrounding bush. Leaving the peaceful herd, I made my way home back through the Londolozi village. Walking down Freedom’s Way (where Nelson Mandela walked during his stay at Londolozi) I bumped into Petunia Mahuale. Petuni is a chef here at Londolozi and could not have a more fitting name. She is both gentle and beautiful, just like the flower. She was dressed in her spotless white chefs apron and had her chef knives in her hand, wrapped in a shwe shwe cloth. Her youngest daughter was walking slightly ahead of her.”Hello,” I greeted Petunia cheerily. Upon hearing a strange voice her daughter stopped and slipped her hand into her mother’s and moved a little closer. Without thinking, Petunia took her daughter’s hand and squeezed it gently, causing the young girl to relax and greet me with a broad smile.
Once again I was struck by the similarity between elephants and humans and how they relate to their young. The most prominent similarity to me was how both species’ young needed the love, presence and reassurance from their mothers in order to feel safe and confident in a changing surrounding. This enabled them to have the confidence to explore.
Today is Universal Children’s Day and given my role in the Londolozi Cub’s Den, these moments reminded me of how it is that we need to guide our future generation if we want them to grow up feeling loved and cared for. Both species that afternoon showed that one does not need to speak the same language in order to understand that a simple act of reassurance allows a child to grow. Quite simply it showed that actions, yet again, speak louder than words.
To all the children around the world, have an amazing Children’s Day!