For four days I have been sitting watching a waterhole. I have been waiting (optimistically!) for a lion or leopard to visit (though I might have scarpered pretty quickly if they had.) Or a lumbering elephant or a blustering rhino – or even the herd of eighty buffalo sighted down a road a few days ago. (Where do you successfully hide a herd of eighty buffalo? – it baffles me!) It was soothing to watch the graceful nyala come to drink and the leggy giraffes – each one bestowing their presence as a gift. But the only regular visitor perturbed me – a small red duiker that came alone to drink – every day around the time that early game viewing begins to exert extreme gravity on the eyelids. It’s hard not to get anthropomorphic in the bush – with the heavy sentimentality generated by being raised in town on episodes of Meerkat Manor and the devastatingly sad March of the Penguins. I felt grave concern for the little duiker – everyone else seemed to have a partner or playmate – or, like the engagingly cute baby rhino, a Big Fat Mama standing guard. It just didn’t seem to be Safe out there on its own. Sooner or later it was bound to get chowed.
It was, of course, doing rather better than the pig that had graced my table at breakfast or the chicken or cow the night before – not that I had struck up a social relationship with any of those. I would never have dreamed of eating the cat that rubbed my leg as I arrived nor even the annoying dog that wanted to put its muddy paws on my clean jeans. And the fact that the Chinese have no problem with eating other people’s pets? Don’t go there! It brought back memories of a Student Counselors’ Conference at the University of Mbatho where we were treated to a special Cultural evening. Traditional fare was served up on a buffet table crowned by a cow’s head – nicely cooked with a removable flap so you could scoop out the brains. Naturally the Hindus amongst us were highly offended (if they had not fainted or vomited on the spot.) The Jews and Muslims were not even asking which particular animal had produced the delightful spicy sausages. The WASPs had figured that goat-meat was pretty tolerable if you didn’t think about it too much and most of us had resigned ourselves to mealie-bread-and-jam – the luxury of poor people the world over. Which was pretty ironic as the diminutive dancing girls in grass skirts were ecstatic that the honoured guests had left the table mostly untouched and were seen tucking into brains and brawn behind the stage as we loaded onto our mini-bus taxi to go home.
Culture is a strange thing. It attributes value to some things and not others in a fairly arbitrary way. (If you are a Westerner living in Africa you ought to have learned by now to buy your fillet steak from an African butchery at half the price because fillet is thrown out like offal…..and when you are entertained by your Asian investors DO NOT turn down the fish head!) It feels that if we could only agree to respect that we value different things (and share them out fairly) there would be a lot more stuff to go around. But hey, if I am honest I don’t think that applies to the poaching of rhino horns, so maybe culture will always be at war. So I will carry on feeling sorry for the duiker as I tuck into my salami pizza – another tough day in Africa.