Its been a long week, but finally after many hard days I can say I have a road! Days started at 7. A short drive to the existing road ended and ours started, followed by shoes thrown off and trousers hitched up. As we received our cold morning wake up call, crossing the river. I crossed alone one day and surprisingly the men told me off. Don’t cross alone Ngwenya they said, meaning crocodile. Depending on the rains the water would go up to our thighs and on the worst days hip level. I went with a gang of 7, local people who would pick up the water and smell for fish I didn’t know if this was to see if they could drink or a way of telling if the Ngwenya would be lurking. Tree chopping started directly after the river crossing. And never before have I worked so hard! With a hoe and an axe we began. The men cutting down most of the trees and women thankfully filling the holes and trenches. There wasn’t much talking the first day and if they spoke to referred to me as Madam, I put that to an end quickly having them all repeat da-nee a few times. Thankfully I went with Tilda who could speak English and it wasn’t long until we were all semi communicating. Mainly laughing at my attempts to repeat words and ushering me back to spots id missed whilst filling holes. I made the terrible mistake of trying to impress the first day and couldn’t quite keep it up. Slow and steady definitely wins the race. The first tree I chopped was entertainment for the group, they all stopped to watch my 20 something swings to pull the thing out of the ground. And I defiantly wanted to sit down for a 7hr break after doing it! We would walk and chop continuously and turn around for the hour ½ walk back around 2. I tell you, the car never looked so glorious before sat on the other side of the river waiting to take us home. We didn’t have breaks but thankfully the men would collect sugar cane from the villager’s fields for a re-boost. I had to receive lessons on how to eat it and how to properly, but I was a lot better at that then the tree removal. On the fourth to last day, I walked to the school with Taweh and Kiso trying to gage how many more days of blistered hands I had left. Halfway through our walk, the rains came! And didn’t finish until the last day. Some days it wasn’t so bad, the air was still warm and a quick excuse to duck under a tree came in handy. The last day had to be my favourite, hard rains and cold winds started about an hour away from the school. The team wanted to carry on as I suggested we should return. We were all soaked, one of the men gave me his jacket as I shivered down the road. Slightly miserable but close to completion I was still able to pull my only joke shouting Ngwenya (crocodile) every time someone walked through a large puddle. I think they regretted teaching me the word. We arrived at the school and by some miracle, the builder was sat in a small hut making a fire. All of us quickly huddled around, Tilda took her jacket off and without talking the guys grabbed corners and held it over the fire. The builder started cooking Sudza (sort of thick mash made out of corn) and Mopani worms. They showed me how to cook the dish and offered me a worm, I couldn’t really refuse and was given my second lesson how to eat the thing! Off with its head and their faces were full of delight as they watched my face screw up as the insect tickled its way down my throat. I was proud of the work on the road, impressed with what it meant but the achievement didn’t compare to the simplicity of being huddled around a fire with the gang, who I’d like to call friends now. It had to be one of the simplest moments I have ever experienced. Food shared with people who don’t have a lot to share, all looking out for one another. Checking each other’s jackets were dry, one of the girls taking my hat and holding it above the flames for me. I learnt communication goes far beyond words, a smile, being pointed at half a brick to sit on and share, the boys pointed at thorns and prickles before I walked over them. Compassion and love truly are wherever you look for them.
The rains have caused for delays on starting to build a road to access the school. So in the mean time I have been playing lifeguard to the baby butternuts! Coming from a big city there’s no better feeling than mud in between your toes and watching having the opportunity to watch little veggies grow! So magical and I didn’t think I would find it as enjoyable as I am checking them daily and watching their progress. I suggest you all turn your fingers green and your toes brown and head into the garden!
Spiders or what I might call, the grim reapers brother decided to visit me on Thursday, and it has been a dramatic downhill from there. Unfortunately, not like the movies. I didn’t get bitten and woke up being able to climb walls. The only spider-like quality I gained was only being able to crawl for a few days if move at all. I’m not really a medicine person, despite my mum efforts to make me take pharmaceuticals (medical prof). So I mentally prepped myself for being ill for a long time, but boy it was something else! I’ve always thought I know better when it came to self-medicating. But having no knowledge of how to treat myself or diagnose what this bite was, delusion started to kick in. Three days of staring at the ceiling and I was begging to be taken somewhere. Maybe it was waking up worried an insect was coming to get me every time sweat dripped down my body, or crying walking to the toilet, help was needed. Obviously, there are two sides to every story, and there were a lot of moments I was rather grateful. When your body is in that much pain, and your in-between conscious and unconscious and all you can do is focus on breathing, you have a very successful meditation sesh! I felt like waving a little flag for myself every time I came out of serious fever, I think it gives you some sort of self-strength. (I will also add when watching war movies, I always wanted to know if I would be able to survive what the soldiers did. So maybe there’s a hint of sick and twisted inside of me, and let’s not forget about being a woman and having the power to withstand childbirth). Lay in the back of the car I headed to the hospital. Bloods taken and an infected bite had sent me into some septic rage, minus the shouting or movement. Every little cut, bite on my body started to get infected. Even my left eye decided to join in on the party and began to swell. I was treated with a course of much-needed antibiotics, but whilst the nurse put a fancy form of sugar onto my bite (to draw out puss). I couldn’t help but think there is method to my madness. Sugar was the cure! Anyone who opts for natural medicine first would understand the confused looks you get when you pick lemon and garlic over cold medicine. But I think there’s a more holistic way of healing than a hospital. And nothing says this more than the Fizzy drinks sold in machines as you walk in. I mean seriously guys. I understand all hospitals are different, and Truly thankful for the antibiotics I was given. But I believe there has to be a better way? A place where there is a bit of natural light, soothing sounds instead of nurses shouting down hallways. Holistic healing with vital medication, a combination of both. I would love to hear any stories of people who have treated bites naturally, what can and can’t be achieved. What did Hippocrates say ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’
Hopefully, you’ve watched the video attached, firstly sorry I’m no Attenborough crew and there’s more shots of my nostril than anything else. But walking in the bush with an extended arm wasn’t happening! As you know, it’s a struggle getting too the school. So at 2Pm Davie unknown to me dropped me of at the closest road with intensions to walk to the school and back and mark out a path in the bush so we can build a road. Simple right. If ive said this once ive said it a million times. Danni doesn’t do directions! Luckily he didn’t send me alone Kaieso and Tilda came along, local people who work on the tomato fields. Getting to the school was actually simple, it took just over an hour. I walked through the village, locals coming out to shake my hand and to say hello (feeling way more important then I am) After reaching the school and talking to the teachers we decided to make our way home. Two of the teachers decided to join the team and walk home with me. And off we went, we’ve all heard of the saying too many cooks in the kitchen. Well it was proven right! Three people trying to decide directions made things a little complicated… An hour later and it was obvious, we was lost. (Kaiso’s AKA Mas 2l bottle of home brewed beer could have also played a part). No obvious paths, ducking and weaving under thorn trees we carried on our hike. At one point I thought I wasn’t going to return, flashing back to episodes of Man Vs wild all I could remember is when he climbed into a camel and there’s zero chance of my tucking into an empty carcass for a night sleep. Luckily Tilda could semi speak English and translated for me, sometimes not so much in my favour when the teacher said in Xhona ‘Elephants have trampled these trees recently’ and the only word she decided to translate was ‘elephant’, not really what you want to hear on foot! But things got more extreme then an accidental translation. The sun was starting to set, Kaieso at this point was marching ahead to try and find the road before dark, causing an assembly line of messages being passed from the front to the back. Davie was somewhere close but yet so far firing gunshots into the air. Luckly I was too tired to panic and too focused on moving forward. 3hrs in and we found ourselves on a road. Never have I been so happy to see a patch of cleared dust. Thinking I was safe, the last moment I would encounter wildlife. There, we saw him, not a joke translation either. A male leopard watching us on our way. It wasn’t really panic that set in, you don’t have time for that. More like an overwhelming stillness, standing in ore as you make eye contact with such a mysterious creature. It takes a few seconds before you can breathe again, let alone take in what’s happening. Something I’ll never forget. He simply stared, checked us out and slowly wondered back off into the bush. Predator maybe, but I saw nothing but a gentle shy wonderer. (possibly because I never saw teeth). Just as we backed away, before anything else could come and say hello to me. Davie arrived with the car, safety at last! After my lesson on compass use, and feeling like I survived some Initiation challenge, we decided maybe not to send me back into the bush for a little while!