Africa Geographic Travel

A brighter future: diary from a Children in the Wilderness camp

Day 1

The lions’ hassling snarls went through the night, with pesky hyenas filling the occasional silence; the latter probably making their way towards the kill site.

At about 05.30am I woke up with the light streaming in from all angles, a result of my sleeping with the tent blinds wide open to allow for a 180 degree view of the bush. Now I sit on the deck in front of my tent watching the mellow Luvuvhu River flow gently by. A giant eagle owl grunts somewhere to my left, a francolin startles the morning to my right. A nyala bull daintily walks below me.

As I sit and listen I contemplate the Makuleke kids arriving today; what they may be like, and the faces that will represent those name badges we spent yesterday writing and decorating. I wonder about their collective potential to keep this wilderness the paradise it is. I think about how fortunate I am to have grown up living in and visiting the bush, and wild places; identifying the bird calls and analysing fresh paw prints.

Children in the Wilderness camp

Before they arrived, they were just names with stickers. By the end of camp, they were names that stuck Photo © Andy Wassung

A big buff has emerged while I have been writing…very quiet for his size. Some more chilling growls fill the air from the same direction as last night. My suspicions are furthered and my interest heightened by the presence of a white-backed vulture, sitting high on an acacia on the other side of the river, near where the growling commotion seems to be coming from. Behind me a heuglin’s robin has jumped a few perches closer to inspect me. This place is magic … it’s going to be an exciting day!

It’s just after lunch time on the first day of Children in the Wilderness, Pafuri. After a few last-minute things like counting t-shirts and filling water bottles, the children were welcomed by the Pafuri staff in high spirits; singing, clapping and dancing. After some initial shyness getting out of the bus, there are already many smiles around. Having pointed out a collared sunbird sitting in its nest low in the roof thatching to some girls, I found it encouraging to see how interested they were in it. I really believe the bush has the ability to capture anyone no matter who they are or where they come from.

Now it is rest time and I’m sitting watching the river again. A hippo has left some tracks and a Burchell’s coucal bubbles nearby. The vulture numbers have increased over the last few hours and, a little downstream, a fish eagle is voicing disapproval. Two young impala rams are risking their lives on the riverbank, as just yesterday the resident crocs were responsible for both a kudu and a nyala kill. The sun is out and it’s heating up to around high thirties now. A Crowned hornbill just flew past; something on the list of many visitors to the north of the Kruger.

After lunch the kids were sorted into teams by racing to pick coloured bandanas which were evenly spread around the Pafuri main deck. After that they followed their team leaders to a quiet spot where they thought up a team name, a flag design and a song. Then teams were given a big white sheet each on which to paint their flag. After the quiet and relaxed painting, the announcement of soccer and skipping sent children in all directions despite the midday heat. After sport everyone sang and danced in a circle with the entertainment representatives leading the way. I couldn’t believe that they had so much energy after running around the north Kruger bush in plus 30 degrees Celsius heat!

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Before supper someone from each table told a joke to see which group would go up for food first. With tummies eventually full and eyes heavy, everyone wrote down a personal fear on a piece of paper and gathered around the fireplace. The significance of this small moment burns deep within me still: some humming, some softly singing, one after the other, these Makuleke children threw their fears into the flames of their forefathers, and, with promise in their eyes, followed the sparks of the fire up into the star-studded Pafuri sky.

Its 9 ‘o clock and now I’m in bed; a long day one considering I was up and about at 05.30 this morning. The bush sounds much quieter tonight so perhaps I’ll get to sleep a bit earlier. The thing about lying in a place like Pafuri at night is that the sounds are completely captivating. There’s so much out there that you feel like you’re missing out on. The wood owls, the crickets, and the general chatter of the new camp residents in the tent next door are all I can hear so far tonight.

Oh, and the frogs…of course, the frogs. Life on the river means the rapture of frogs becomes as normal as breathing. A guineafowl is kicking up a storm across the water and a thick tailed bush baby is startled. It’s still early … there is much night to listen through.

Andy Wassung

I have grown up living in some of Southern Africa’s most beautiful places; from Cape Town, where I was born, and sandy Arniston Bay, to the shores of the great Zambezi, the pristine Okavango, and starry Namibia, with a stopover in Jo’burg for a few big city years, finding solace at boarding school in the hills of KwaZulu Natal. After a year of making beds and cleaning toilets in Scotland, scoffing one pound noodles on the streets of London, Swiss skiing, and Thai island-hopping, I set my sights on Rhodes University. There I finished a Bachelor of Journalism & Media Studies while blissfully and barefootedly dwelling in the revelry of small town living and learning to navigate the local Pick n Pay with my eyes closed. I have a deep love for this extraordinary country & the African continent, her people and her beautiful, fragile wilderness. Follow me on Twitter .

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