I drive a Land Rover with no power steering, an aversion to second gear, a passenger side door that doesn’t stay closed, and the reverse gear in the opposite place to where it should be. My home is a building about 20×15 with no solid walls. My roof is thatch and also happens to be home to some wildlife like squirrels and mice who get in through the eaves and take up residency, often leaving small presents of little brown pellets sporadically scattered on the screed concrete floor. I do have hot water and water pressure, but my bathroom doesn’t have a door. Every night, a door mouse comes to visit my waste bin, munching on whatever it can find. It also has a liking for bars of soap, my eye cream, and vitamins.
Two nights ago, a leopard walked through camp. It was so close its breathing shook the canvas on our tent. There was a huge male on our side, and a female on the other side of camp. Didn’t see them, but sure heard them, and found the tracks the next morning.
My boyfriend and I run a camp where they train the field guides for safaris. I am pretty much camp mom, and he is an assistant instructor. We are both babysitters to an extent as well. Living in the bush with no modern conveniences (no electricity in our tents, and the only power coming from a generator that is on for just a few hours a day) means having to plan everything. To keep a charged phone and laptop, you need to make sure you always have the appropriate plugs and adaptors with you constantly.
A snouted cobra with a head the size of my fist and a body the width of my forearm visited me in my office (my office being a large tent with an aerial on top for better internet signal). There were three of us inside talking when we heard what sounded a bit like the wind picking up, swooshing. We looked up and less than a meter away was this massive snake. His head was up, he was checking out the scene, and then he quickly pulled a 180 and cruised away. I saw his tracks later along the pathway to the students’ tents. It was a first. My only other snake encounters out here have been mostly from a car, although I did come face to face with a baby forest cobra by accident on a quiet day in Hluhluwe iMfolozi’s research camp. This was the first time I was up close and personal with a dangerous and HUGE snake. It was a little unnerving and exciting at the same time. That night after the visit, all I did was dream about snakes.
The other night I found the resident mouse in my toilet, drinking from it. Because of the tank system, the actual toilet bowl only fills up a tiny bit after each flush, so the mouse was essentially sitting in about three centimeters of water. I guess he dropped into the bowl for a sip and was happily playing away in his private plunge pool when I woke up to the sound of water splashing behind me. The river being in FRONT of me, I was at first confused, especially since I’d heard the same sound from the same direction a few nights before and knew there wasn’t any nearby water source (besides the toilet) in that direction. I walked over to the toilet and shined the light. Imagine my surprise to see the tiny grey mouse looking back up at me, its huge black eyes confused, frightened, and probably thinking, “shit, they caught me”. My boyfriend was convinced he was terrified, but since I had heard the mouse splashing around in there before (although I didn’t realize it was a mouse and thought it must’ve been outside our house last time), I knew the little guy was more than capable of getting out on his own. There was clearly no threat of him drowning either. But we couldn’t really just leave him there. It was a moment of to flush or not to flush. The mouse had, after all, had a habit of chewing through our stuff and waking me almost every night when he got into the trash bin. But he was so cute. I couldn’t bring myself to push the handle.
I admit I had a fleeting thought of reaching into the bowl and picking up the mouse, although a split second later I realized that would be a dumb idea, with diseases and all that lovely little meeses carry. So my boyfriend, rugged ranger that he is, managed to get the mouse to crawl up on the toilet cleaner brush and carried him out into the night, tossing him gently into the outside brush where the mouse quickly ran off into the night. He hasn’t been back since, so we’ll see what happens. Of course, since his last visit, I have been fortifying the house as best as possible, given that I have canvas and shade cloth walls that meet a concrete slab floor and is held up by termite-infested poles holding up a thatched roof. My home is a standing lightening rod. And now we have an aluminum solar panel latched onto the side of the roof. Nothing like having a small semi-conductor of electricity tied to an already fire-hazard roof. Can’t wait for the rains to come…
By the way, above is a picture of one of my neighbors. We shared a sundowner together the other day. He drinks the water out of the river. I choose not to do so. I’m fairly sure by choosing not to do so saves my internal organs.
All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo