For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to work in the bush and care for animals, to be a part of this land that is in my blood and bones. My father and Grandfather passed on their pride in this place to me. I am formed of the dust of this particular earth and one day I will go back to it. I understand the small things, the tiny creatures that have learnt to hide from danger. My father was a good teacher - when he was happy. He taught me the names of all the birds and insects before I went to school. He taught me how to make the calls of birds and we practiced until my sounds were the same as the real birds to his ears. The Emerald-Spotted wood dove was our special favourite call, together we copied it. He made the long, low coo-coo-coo if he needed me and he called until I answered with my echo.
He took me out on the weekends when he was free and we explored the bush together. I learnt to read the tracks and dung, to eat from the wild plants and to climb trees for safety from the short sighted rhino or predators. I had a map in my head of all the winding roads and waterholes, together we watched the elephant drink and we laughed at the giraffe. I understood the season changes and mating places of the game. The high rocks of the lion prides and feeding groves for elephant were landmarks on the map of my childhood.
In the main visitor centre was a conservationist’s plaque with all the names of the Game Rangers engraved into the huge brass surface who had served in Sukuza since the camp opened. My Kokwana’s name was up there near the top. My father would stand shoulders back and tell me he will be proud when he retires to see his name on that list and I should one day have the same honour.
I collected songololos and other goggas and put them into empty bottles which I stopped up with clay balls. I wanted to care for them but they often died when I kept them. My sister, Josephine, wouldn't let me bring them into the house without the clay stoppers, that's the problem. One day I collected a poisonous spider along with my bugs but I didn’t notice it. It was called a sac spider and I was just lucky it didn’t bite me when I found it. One night while we were sleeping, not long after I tried the Landy night drive, my older brother Philemon was bitten on the leg. His leg swelled up and turned bad after a few days - it took money to go to the clinic to buy medicine and it was a very long way to walk so we hardly ever went there. My father didn't have any coins left in his secret hiding place - I checked it.
Eventually, the sore on Philemon's leg burst open, it looked like a burnt circle of chopped meat and he screamed with the pain. He was so weak my mother decided to beg for money from my Father's boss. My father was allowed to take the Landy to take Philemon to the clinic. It was too late to save his leg, they had to remove it. Then he got worse, the infection spread into other parts of his body, he got fevers and a rash all over his body and before the month was passed he was dead. The doctors told us it was very rare for a person to die from this spider bite, we must have been unlucky. My mother wept for days, months even.
I ran away the day my brother died. Nobody missed me, there were so many women crying and swaying inside our small house. Groups of quiet men sat outside on sawn logs or upturned beer crates dangling their caps between their knees. I hid up a tree all night wishing to be a bird that was free to fly away anywhere in the world. I dreamed as I slept in bits and pieces that I was walking in the land of my forefathers, my Grandfather was holding my hand and smiling down at me. He was trying to speak to me but I couldn't understand his words. I woke at sunrise to the loud squawks and chirps of birds and then I called out to my brother, hoping his spirit would hear me say how sorry I was about keeping that spider. I cried until my eyes were so swollen I looked as ugly as a peeping warthog. I crept home to my bed where Josephine found me, she had been crying too, we lay toge...