SafLodge…

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I want to paint a mind picture. A picture of Africa. I’ll splash the broad brush-strokes across the canvas, but I’m hoping you will fill in the detail.
Picture a vlei with a pan at the bottom. Giraffe awkwardly drinking.
Hippo grunt in the early morning. Yawn. Zebra graze peacefully with wildebeeste, close to the pan. Perhaps there is a crocodile in the water, I don’t know. Paint in his nostrils, two little bumps above the water, if you wish. There are birds. Lots of them. I don’t know their names and its not important, really. I’d just throw dots and slashes across the canvas for them. Next there is a pole rail and a blue, blue swimming pool, a green lawn and lots of little round hardwood tables with cute umbrellas. Huge acacia thorn trees with flat tops tower. Its easy to fill in those, that flat top is just a squiggle of the brush.
This place we have drawn is the Hwange Safari Lodge, or SafLodge as its affectionately known.
Every room at the hotel faces the pan and from there you can fill in more details. Shut your eyes and paint the safire blue of the malachite kingfishers as they plunge from overhead branches, delighting breakfasting holidaymakers. The stark white shirts of the dignified waiters, their balanced trays, sparkling ice.
And elephant. Don’t forget the elephants, mind artists. Babies gamboling, mama’s watching, teenagers agitating. The dust rising, especially in the evenings against the blood red sunset.
In the very early mornings before anyone stirs, warthog grovel on their knees, digging with their noses. Don’t forget that little upwards stroke of the brush – periscope tails.

Warthog

 

Unlike more modern hotels elsewhere, SafLodge doesn’t offer broadband internet in each room, or those fancy smelling soaps and hand creams. But from how many other hotels can visitors hear lions roar? Or the unmistakable cough of a leopard, the insane giggle of a feeding hyena?
Like any hotel anywhere in the world, there is a concerted effort to portray a certain image. I’m sure some like to appear busy, exciting, vibrant. SafLodge want their clientèle to feel the timelessness of Africa, the enormity. Staff move slowly, majestically; silently, like the elephant visitors who stroll through the grounds. To match the murmuring birds, they speak in low, soothing voices. Rooms are cleaned quietly, efficiently.
It’s a well run hotel with a flow that is rigorously maintained. The kitchens too, although rather noisier, are well organised. Food out one end, refuse out the other. Waste packed into bags, tied off at the top are put into larger bins; separated into organic waste, paper and plastic. Cans. Long before it became fashionable to compost hotel waste, SafLodge began sorting decomposables.
When game viewing vehicles return to the garages, they are swept clean, the food debris of the ever munching tourists removed. Gardeners move about continually removing litter, animal droppings. While it is very exciting for a tourist to see a wild cat slink into the lighted area at night, standing in the scat he leaves is not.
A small eco-system has developed around the hotel. Crows find enough pickings, mice are resident in store-rooms, in the garages. The malachite kingfishers find more worms than they would have had this vlei remained a dusty clearing. The inhabitants of this world were happy, contented, living their lives together.

Until one day…, into this serene, idyllic paradise a huge male baboon strolled.

And now I ask you, to once again pick up that imaginary paint brush and detail his battle scars, his bright red bum, huge discoloured teeth. Kicked out of his troupe, he now sits in the middle distance at SafLodge, scratching himself, or staring off into the distance. No longer can the crows make elegant swoops to pick up crusts dropped by children walking to the tennis courts. Now they need to make haste or the baboon will be there first. He shuffles in fast, snatches, stuffs the food into his mouth. Barks his triumph. He is not elegant. And the staff cant stand him. Especially the women.
And let’s get one thing clear here: this causes the big baboon not one sleepless night. No one has liked him for a very long time. It’s not a requirement of the male of the tribe: popularity.
He is bold. Bolder when there are no men about. He watches them move to the front gardens, or drive away in the game viewing vehicles. Then, with his awkward lope, his crooked tail, he makes his dash to the kitchen stoop. He throws aside the dustbin lids, grabs bags from the organic bins. Littering lettuce leaves, tomato tops, potato peels, he retreats to his spot. Small beady eyes on yelling, fist waving maids, he digs in and stuffing his mouth, barks his triumph.

SafLodge is very close to the Hwange National Park along a fairly busy road. Busses pass, tourists in four wheel drives. Accidents happen. Animals more accustomed to the pace of the National Park, underestimate speed. Stories abound about kudu, impala misjudging magestic leaps, crumpling under wheels. Or perhaps we are all wrong, and it’s simply suicide. Lemmings, leaping into passing landrovers.
I cant say if the huge snake lying across the road intended to commit suicide or if he went there for the warmth of the road. But he did, he sprawled himself right across the road his ends disappearing into the bush on either side, and the result was the same as if someone had taken a shot gun to him.
Trundling past, an inspiration came to a SafLodge bus driver, not unlike an artistic moment of vision. He coiled the dead snake into a bag and carried it back thus concealed, to the hotel.
Now I ask you to add a gaggle of maids to your picture, plotting revenge; the target of their intrigue squatting in his habitual position, chin resting on his hand. Contemplating; occasionally picking something from his coat, and popping it in his mouth.
The baboon noticed nothing untoward. He watched the men clean out the game viewing vehicles; move to the front, to tend the pool, sweep the paths. He watched the kitchen doors swish shut; a maid’s large behind retreating. Silence descended and the baboon made his move. He threw the bin-lid aside, delighting I swear, at the cymbal sounding crash.
The kitchen doors burst open. The baboon grabbed the closest bag and ran, his hoard awkwardly dragging behind. Barking in defiance he stared around at the ever increasing number of people. Men from the kitchens, from the garages. The cooks, bottle-washers. Even waiters. Barking victory, his eyes on his audience, the male baboon reached into the bag pulling out the contents. When he finally looked down at what he had stolen he found himself face to face with his nemesis. A huge, menacing, coiled monstrosity. This is the vision that haunts all baboon’s terrors; nightmares. It stared him right in the face, and the baboon saw his life passing in front of his slowly, upwardly rolling eyes.

Involuntarily squeezing the throat of the dead snake, Mr Big Baboon swooned. Yes, fellow artists. Still holding the snake, he rolled over backwards in a dead faint, his bright red bum clear, his little baboon feet facing the blue African sky. And the staff laughed. They bent double, some fell to the floor. They roared, they pointed. The baboon woke to them.
Throwing the snake violently aside, he stood to his full height barking defiantly. He bared his rotten teeth at the SafLodge and loped away.
And immediately, life returned to normal. Dustbin lids no longer required weights nor maids to take the long way back to their quarters. The crows once again made their slow majestic, unhurried swoops over pristine lawns.
I hope you will hang onto this little sketch we’ve made. This story doesn’t have a moral; parallels rather, and it’s a true story
Another story of Africa.

 

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A Pale

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About frankiekay

I'm an author from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I've written a novel, Silk Threads and a few short stories. Although Frankie is a pen name, she is the me who never grew up, the crazy kid who spoke to animals, talked to the wildflowers and asked awkward questions...I love: music, the silence..., distant horizons. I hate: crowds and spending money

20 responses »

    • Thanks…it was a long time coming, that story…at first I wrote it from the point of view of a crow, because they particularly minded the baboon and he really was a bad mannered, repulsive guy

  1. I never knew about that Lodge. Idyllic. Meditations were super. Transported home for a brife moment of memories…could hear the noises and smell the scents. Good one!! Thank you.

    • My sister worked for UTC at SafLodge (the bus company that works together with the Hotel) I visited her when the baboon was terrorising everyone – it was shortly after, that the driver got his ‘brainwave’
      We did a borehole survey at the clinic there as part of the cholera challenge (dry unfortunately.) We stopped off not long ago for a drink – its just as beautiful as ever…I had a swim of course!

  2. That made me chuckle!!!! Stayed there over 25 yrs ago, but I remember it well…but I love your silly baboon…I think I’ll pinch him…paint him in along with my own memories. You’re a wonderful storyteller Frankie

    • Thanks – please (really) paint him – then I can put a decent pic on that blog post! Saf Lodge hasn’t changed much, let me tell you – still wonderful views from the pool area – the ellies sometimes still stroll through the grounds – the baboon has gone though – never came back!

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