February 28, 1998, Limpopo valley Botswana:

What’s that I hear? It seems to be coming from the north east of our camp. I lay still on top of Heinrich’s vehicle smothering in my mosquito net. I glanced at my watch 11:30pm. The black African sky was alive with the sounds of the bush. Far off in the distance I hear the moaning of the African lion calling for the lioness as she hunts for the family meal; what a pleasure, the African night..

As time continues I realize the sound I hear is the faint tight sound of native drums, it seems that the local natives are getting ready for a wild night of singing and drinking. As time goes by I can’t sleep and it seems as if the drums and singing are getting louder and more repetitious. I begin to think of today’s journey and how foolish we were in being here alone in the bush.

Here is what happened, back in Johannesburg I pressured my friend Heinrich to accompany me up into Botswana to explore around North of the Limpopo River. Heinrich has lived his whole life in South Africa and knows native customs and his way around all these back woods. We left Johannesburg in such a hurry we didn’t let anyone know where we were going and what area we would be exploring. Now laying here in my sleeping back I realize that anything could happen to us here in the bush and that there would be no way of anybody finding where we were.

Another foolish move was that during the day we had been driving along a dirt road for miles just north of the Limpopo and passed through a few native villages. As we drove through the villages of thatched roof mud huts all the people stopped and just watched us as if they hadn’t seen a car in years. Heinrich told me just to smile and wave and act as friendly as I hoped they were. I have learned since that at this point we should have asked for the local chief and arranged with him if we could camp and explore on his land, but instead we just drove through trying to find a suitable place in the bush to set up a temporary camp. We found a nice dried watering hole to camp by and due to the lateness of the day slept on the roof of the car to stay out of harms way.

Lately there has been an uprising of violence against the whites in Southern Africa mainly in the rural areas against the Afrikaans farmers. These poor people died horrible violent deaths and the hands of the local natives. Some people being tortured by being covered in hot, melted black plastic bags so they could die as a “black man.” These kept going through my mind and that a group of wild intoxicated natives might not be good for our health especially when we had many Rands worth of provisions and a vehicle that could easily be turned into a local taxi!

The time was 1:43am the sound of the drums and singing was ever increasing in volume and intensity. I also noticed that the sound was coming from a different direction than at first and in the still night I felt the group was getting nearer and nearer.

As the drums echoed through the night the natives would sing the same verses over and over for thirty minutes at a time and when they would switch to the chorus they would scream and yell and their dogs would bark and howl along with them.

Heinrich and I decided they were coming our way and as they neared our camp within probably two hundred-yard all the sound abruptly stopped and silence fell over the camp. The usual night sounds had stopped and Heinrich put out his cigarette to snuff the light in the dark. I was at this point scared to death, I knew they had spotted our camp or they wouldn’t have silenced the singing and drums. As I sat quietly sweating to death in my sleeping bag I could hear natives surround our camp and whistle to each other from bush to bush, off in the distance I could hear the women giggling and footsteps through the dried leaves on the ground. My heart beating so loud I could here it and feeling totally vulnerable being that we were un-armed and at there mercy I wrote hastily in my journal what we had experience up to that point and added my home address and asked that it be shipped there if found.

Taken from my Journal Saturday February 21, 1998.

6:00pm. Limpopo river Botswana. Today was an exciting day; we left early this morning from Johannesburg driving northwest to Gaborone. We followed a dirt road out of Gaborone heading northeast attempting to find a nice location along the Limpopo River for animal watching. After about two hours on the bumpy dirt track we arrived at a small native village. The natives stared at us quietly as we drove through their village. Heinrich (My friend from Johannesburg) told me to smile and act normal. After winding our way through huts and livestock we left the village heading due east towards the Limpopo. After thirty more minutes of driving we came to another small village. Again the people ran out of their huts and just watched us as if they had never seen anyone in a vehicle before. We passed on through scattering dust everywhere. It was beginning to get late so we decided to pitch camp at a dry water hole and continue to the Limpopo in the morning. We both opted to sleep on top of the Mercedes Sprinter (A common place to camp in Africa where there are wild animals) so after dinner over the fire we climbed atop to enjoy the sounds of the African night.

About 9:30pm. Five miles west of the Limpopo river- tonight I am sleeping out under the stars in beautiful Botswana. The moon is full and the stars bright. I can hear the sounds of wildlife all around. There is a cool southern breeze keeping the mosquitoes at bay. Good night.

11:30pm. Finally found a pen! Well, I am writing by moonlight, I had just fallen asleep when out of the southwest came the sounds of native drums! I can hear the drums and people yelling. It makes me a little nervous. Heinrich says its fine.

1:00am. The drums are much louder now, the yelling and singing seems to be getting closer. Heinrich decided it was time to put out the fire and he extinguished his cigarette. Nervous!

1:40am. They are surrounding us! Heinrich and I are sitting quietly in the dark straining to listen at the footsteps and whistles coming from the bush all around us. The drums are very loud and monotonous, I hope they don’t molest us!

2:30am. Still awake, very nervous, we are totally surrounded by natives in the bush watching us. They communicate to each other by whistles and clicks. The drums are still pounding but I can hear women singing and laughing off in the distance. I have written my address and information in the back of my journal in case something happens and my journal is found.

2:50 am. I can hear people walking in the bushes, it sounds as if they are fading away in the distance, Heinrich and I sit still waiting and hoping that they decided to move off and let us be, which they did. The drums sounded all night. To this day I can still remember each moment sitting there tense with anticipation of an attack. and wondering if I could escape and survive in the bush until I found my way to safety.

Heinrich and I finally decided we should lock ourselves in the truck and wait until morning. When the the sun began to rise it all became quiet and when it was light enough to see we quickly packed camp noticing footprints all around our campsite.

When I reflect on this night I sometimes wonder if my fear was foolish. If they wanted to harm us they could of easily enough overpowered us. Keep in mind this happened shortly after the end of apartheid and some horrible crimes against farmers and people caught in rural areas were happening daily in this region of Africa. When these crimes are fresh on your mind a night like this can be a scary experience.

 
 
 

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