Africa can be described by using many words or feelings, yet I find it hard to adequately convey the feeling I get when walking or driving through the natural wonders the continent gives rise to, or the people I encounter across its many cultures.
I have found a piece of writing though that sums it up pretty well for me.
Christopher McBride studied the lions of Savuti during their night-time activities and wrote an extraordinary book on his adventures called Liontide. The prologue in his book really spoke to me:
Imagine a 25000 square kilometre wilderness. Then put, in your imagination, a 32 by 16 kilometre marsh in the middle of it. Feed the marsh with a river, or channel, of the clearest, slightly amber-coloured water. Fly over this wilderness (like Peter Pan, if you like, or in a light aircraft) and see the game paths, like veins in an elephant’s ear or wrinkles on the face of the oldest desert-dried Bushman you know, and see how most of them converge on the marsh. Don’t be surprised, as you fly lower, to find that the kilometre-long trail of black ants you saw is a herd of buffalo come in from the surrounding drylands – for it is September – to water at Savuti in the marsh, to feed on its evergreen, reedy fringes. And those grey lumps you saw – those are elephants, all over the place!
Get on the ground and you’ll see everything else Africa has to offer, in herds: tsessebe, impala, sable antelope, eland if you are lucky, giraffe, kudu – and yes, over there underneath that tree, resting in the shade, that is Motsamayi, with her 8 sister lionesses and some of their latest litters, 14 cubs, waiting for night to fall so that they can get up and get going.
Populate the river with bream, catfish and pike, with hippos and a few crocodiles. Garnish it with water-lilies and watercress and add a few frogs for luck (and for the birds) to strum the night sky with their croaking, and to feed the fledgling crocodiles with their tadpoles.
Then go and stand, in the hours before dawn, at the head of the channel where it debouches into the marsh. Look behind you and you will see in the moonlight the outline of the Twin Hills, where the hyenas live. Look in front of you and you will see the silhouetted skeletons of those acacias the fire killed a while back.
Don’t be surprised at the earth smells, rich, tart and raunchy; at those sounds, weird, wonderful, frightening and relaxing, making you feel as if you’ve come home; at those feelings all of this evokes, all of a sudden before you realise it; at the atmosphere, the earth-waves or star-waves or whatever they are, which exudes (and, yes, there is a shooting star) unconsciously as dew falls on the grass. Don’t be surprised if all this, in ways that you will never be able to fathom (for they are prelogical), stirs, as a wind stirs dust along the bare boards of the floor of an uninhabited, forgotten room, the still waters of your deepest Devonian mind, and sends the slightest of chilly ripples up your spine, raising the hairs on your nape – for in those still recesses you know it all already.
For this is where we all began, in the company, the comfort and the terror of those same sounds and smells. You have, quite simply, come home, and a part of you, even if it only surfaces in the depths of your dreams, to trouble or assure them; a part of you will never forget it. And if you can find a place more magic in the whole of Africa, or in the whole of the world, then you are cut off from that part of you- you have locked the door to that room in your own mind. Or you have been asleep the while. In either case, it is better to wake up. In any case, look, there comes the sun. It is time to go home, in the early morning light.”
Although that passage was written to describe Savuti in Botswana, the beauty of the African bush is the juxtaposition of both generic and unique feelings you get from different places and spaces. What you feel when watching a leopard stalking in the dim light at Londolozi can be felt when watching the great migration in East Africa or driving across the barren gravel plains of Namibia. It’s a feeling of awe and insignificance, a feeling of wonder.
What feeling does Africa evoke in you?