It felt only appropriate to spend some time with Shan Varty when unpacking the lessons of motherhood, and especially lessons learnt through Mother Nature. There is a thread linking all mothers across the globe; some through similar experiences, struggles, triumphs but most importantly the innate feeling of being someone who is relied upon. While Shan most certainly shares the thread connecting all mothers to a single purpose, she has had a unique time being a mother raising her two children in the African wilderness and nurturing Londolozi and the Londolozi Family along the way.
We handover to Shan:
The creation of Londolozi also required a mother figure – how would you describe growing Londolozi as an enterprise?
When the industry started we were exploring many African countries and it was a very masculine field. I knew that our safari destination would need a little more femininity, love and care. Londolozi was the first place where I found the feminine and the mother-figure to really shine through. Conservation and hospitality require deep care, nurture, persistence and love. I was so lucky to be apart of Londolozi’s development, but I only played a part. The Shangaan mothers have added such value through sharing ancient wisdom and tribal mothering. This pointed us strongly towards the uBuntu philosophy which Londolozi focuses on so much today. There have been so many others who have come through and played their role in helping give Londolozi’s heart a voice and making sure that care and love always feature. I have been a constant but I am only a part of Londolozi. I am so proud that the magical layers of the feminine have been added to this holistic entity called Londolozi.
You have been a motherly figure to Londolozi and to those living at Londolozi throughout the years – how would you explain motherhood in a non-biological sense?
Motherhood is an incredible gift. To be bestowed the gift of being able to give birth and to have a baby is one thing, but for me being able to be a motherlike figure to the Londolozi Family has been just as treasured. Since the early 70’s generations have passed through Londolozi and it’s been a real privilege to have been a surrogate mother to many of them. Sharing the highs and lows with a multitude of young people has been an honour. In the same way that I am proud of Bronwyn and Boyd, I feel pride for the alumni of Londolozi, many of whom have done incredible things in conservation and the NGO space. They have left Londolozi as the best versions of themselves which is all I can ask for. The alumni legacy is somewhat like the Mother Leopard’s Legacy, in that moments of impact have lead to incredible adults who we are proud to call our Londolozi Family.
What does it mean to be a mother?
First off I think it’s important to realise that being a mother is not necessary biological, it is a state of being. For me, it means stepping into alignment. So much comes into perspective the minute you become a mother. The stars, the moon and the sun all of a sudden make sense and align. It means a time to create, a time to grow, nurture, hold and a time to become the best version of yourself.
What has motherhood taught you about yourself?
For me, motherhood has given me a great sense of gratitude for things I never knew to be grateful for! Motherhood reveals a certain part of you that you were never aware of, it’s the revealing of this motherly side to me that I am grateful for. It’s this change that makes you feel complete. It also has taught me immense appreciation for the ability to create and for the gift of being able to help grow an individual. Motherhood has taught me to be patient, to have discipline and forgiveness (mostly for myself).
What has Mother Nature taught/shown you about motherhood?
I have been completely surrounded by her throughout my time as a mother. Mother Nature has shown me that there is a rhythm to life and that there is season, and that life moves in circles. Mother Nature has given me a front seat to her show, and she has taught me so much about nurture, patience, perseverance, persistence and interestingly about play. I’ve watched many wild animal mothers play with their offspring. It’s all about preparation, she is giving her cubs what they need to face the world. I’ve also found that Mother Nature has shown me to be more present in the moment, to experience the little things and try to take in as much as you can.
Has there been a particular animal which has taught you something about motherhood?
I think if there is any wild mother at Londolozi who has had an impact not only on me but with the global Londolozi Family, I’d have to say it would be the Tsalala lioness. The Tsalala lioness lost her sisters and landed up being on her own, which in itself is unusual and unfamiliar for lions. Her will to survive and grow her pride was so strong and innate and she managed to have three cubs, two of which were killed. She has now managed to raise her one cub almost to adulthood despite the odds. The Tsalala lioness represents the absolute strength of motherhood and the perseverance needed to put one front in front of the other when things get tough. Stepping into the role of a mother is stepping into the energy of ultimate creation. To be a real creator you have to have perseverance and commit to the creative process through adaptation, instinct and strength.
You have watched the leopard lineage branch from the Mother Leopard – what did she teach you about motherhood and/or other experiences you had with her?
The words that come to mind are persistence. Every mother needs to dig deep and at times continue to persist at what is required at whatever stage the little one is at and this is exactly what the Mother Leopard did. I was always amazed at the connection she would have with her cubs, it seemed as though this was formed through their eyes and the constant touch they gave each other whether it was nose-to-nose, or a nudge, every touch point counted. She showed me the importance of this connection and the strength of the bond between mother and child, a connection which is never lost. The Mother Leopard also taught me about legacy. The Leopards of Londolozi are because of the Mother Leopard. Her willingness to engage with something unusual like humans and to trust, has created the most unbelievable leopard culture at Londolozi. By showing each of her cubs that it was okay to be around vehicles and to be within sight of humans, she has left a legacy and is a reminder that your actions today can have a huge impact someday.
What was your biggest challenge being a mother?
I arrived to wild Londolozi in the early 70’s as a city girl. Needing to learn to trust nature and slowly let my guard down was my first obstacle. Then I had my children and had to navigate motherhood in a place with little to no facilities. No running water, no electricity, no nearby doctor, no proper phone and absolutely no Google were a few of the challenges I faced early on but as I said before, one step in front of the other and we made do with what we had. I soon learnt that I had to just go with my instinct, many mothers raise their children under these circumstances. When something inside you said that something wasn’t right you had to trust yourself. Mother’s have this innate knowing that is often only discovered in challenging circumstances. While the facilities back then were my greatest struggle as a mother, the benefit of raising my children hand-in-hand with Mother Nature is something I would never change.
What is your favourite part of being a mom?
HUGS! It’s all the deep connections along the way. From having early morning tea together, to having a phone call with your children is what I love most. Then I would also have to say it’s the sense of pride. When your little cub finally goes out into the world and does what he/she was meant to do, you get that wonderful sense of pride as you sit back and watch.
What does it mean to be a mother in the African wilderness?
To be a mother in the African wilderness is to allow child-led learning. It has allowed for children to explore and learn through every interaction they have with nature. To allow this way of learning has also meant that I need to find a balance. A balance of being very aware and attuned to the natural world but also giving them enough space to grow and understand nature. In this sense Mother Nature has been a mother to me – relying on her to give me motherly instincts and an innate knowing.
How does it feel to be celebrated on Mother’s Day?
That’s the magic sweet spot. I think every mother loves this day, it’s the day you really feel a sense of appreciation for all the extra things you do. It’s wonderful to feel appreciated and spoilt. Sometimes if you’re lucky, everyday is Mother’s Day – if you’ve brought your kids up right 😉