Each year, as part of a travel writing competition, ISD’s grade 9 students are invited to inspire awe, wonder and joy with their personal stories of travel. This year’s winner, Sarah, animates the African landscape with her lyrical prose and distinctive voice. With the long-awaited summer vacation finally here, allow Sarah’s beautiful piece to awaken your sense of wanderlust!
It’s that moment just before dawn; everything seems to be frozen, waiting to see if the sun rises again. There’s a T’swana myth where the stars have finished their dance; the last echo of the drum has faded and there is no sound, no breath. It has been stolen by the main dancer; he spins, twirls, leaps and arcs. In that moment, all eyes are on him; for he is the moon. He freezes, holding his final pose. Then as one, the world takes a breath, with a flourish, he bows, and clears the stage, for the act of the sun.
We park near a water hole for breakfast; which consists of sausages, bacon, eggs, fresh bread with lavender honey and homemade cheese, hot chocolate, tea, coffee and, for a final touch, the best cookies I’ve ever had. Still warm, homemade chocolate chip, with a rough farmhouse texture that crumble to perfection. As we eat, we watch the sun rise; feel it heat the ground beneath us, seeping through our many layers; smiling as it sets the water hole on crystal fire, bathing the golden grasses in a warm orange glow. There’s nothing like it.
We finish our breakfast and climb back in the truck.
The greenery surrounding the water is amazing. Trees of every kind lean lazily, trailing leaves in the water. Fresh grass of the most electrifying green has sprung up overnight and is covered in a dusting of dew that shines like a trillion baby diamonds. Blackjack bushes have sharpened their needles in preparation for the onslaught of hungry grazers. There’s every animal you could think of at the water hole but there’s one that outweighs all others, literally. An elephant.
A matriarch, saunters up to the water; her subjects skittering away before her might. She has the look of a queen. She moves with such grace, swaying slightly, her tusks curving perfectly to a point are stained and cracked but that only adds to her decadence. There is no rush to her step. She knows she’s got time and is here to wake up at her own pace. Deeming it safe, she calls her family to break their fast on the fresh fruits growing in abundance around the life giving water.
All at once, somehow melting out of the shrubbery, a herd of elephants surround us. Moving like oil, they breeze past, paying us no heed; they know, with that amazing knowledge elephants have, that we mean them no harm. The matriarch waits patiently in the water greeting each member with a rumble or stroke. They return the courtesy, nodding in deference. They carry an unexplainable warmth, of love, and family. The babies squeak and squeal as they galumph through the pool, splashing each other, flapping their little ears. The adults drink deeply, keeping a watchful eye over the mischievous young ones.
The matriarch stands watch; she has seen more than the others and knows to be wary. She does not stand guard against lions, or leopards; they don’t scare her; she is queen of the wild. She fears that which does not belong to the wild. She fears us, humans. She has seen the horrors we’ve committed. Yet in her wisdom, knowledge of the ages, knowledge given to her by the earth itself, that our group are not the ones to fear. She nears, wading through the grass. Close enough to touch.
Her eyes are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen; they sparkle like a lake at moonrise and looking into them, I can see illimitable wisdom, stretching back to a time before man. Passed down to her by her mother, from her mother before her, carrying on to the depths of time. It seems like she has been watching me, watching us, man, grow from everything we were, to everything we are and beyond that. It is she who holds the knowledge of her dominion; she knows where the deepest springs are. She knows where the best fruits grow; she has seen a thousand children born and a thousand children grow and a thousand children die. She is the old one. She will live until the earth itself deems her ready to pass on.