Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Journey Begins..

It was still early morning - nearly dark and surprisingly cool as Reyno and I stepped into the fairly well maintained sandy- coloured Land Rover Defender at the start of Easter Weekend of 2004.  We had come to Tanzania in search of a new source for the stunning bright green dravite tourmaline known as “chrome-tourmaline”. With its spectacular grassy hue attributable to elemental chromium trapped in its crystal structure, this vibrant green gemstone is rarer than both emerald and tsavorite garnet, though it does not yet command the same prices. 

The climate in Moshi, – a town directly, and very briefly, south of Mount Kilimanjaro is quite different from the heat and humidity of Dar es Salaam and thus the chill in the morning air caught me somewhat pleasantly  by surprise.
Armed with the sure knowledge of rumours, a “map’ that bore print not dissimilar to the previous night’s spaghetti leftovers trailing sparsely across a crumpled and battered page and a keen sense of optimism we set forth for a village, not actually indicated on the map and known to us only as “Nabarera”.

The 550 million year old Merelani antiform is a massive horse-shoe shaped structure that basks in the shadows of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This ‘antiform’ embraces around 2000 square kilometres, with each arm (or flank of the shoe) stretching between 60 and 70 kilometres south. The antiform is a magnificent geological feature that plays host to some of the world’s most sought after gemstones including Tanzanite, Tsavorite and of course Chrome Tourmaline. 

The latter saw us eagerly setting off on our jaunt into the unknown. The distance we were to travel was only around 120 kilometres, however I use the term “only” rather loosely, as the going in Africa can become so bad that 10 kilometres can take a good few hours out of one’s day. – This fine morning however we had quickly left the town’s paved roads and were traveling at a comparatively brisk pace of around 25 kilometres per hour on the rough and sandy road that leads through the centre of the antiform. 
For the first two hours or so as we traversed the length of the massive horse-shoe, I was enthralled at the beauty of the Tanzanian landscape. Thorn trees dotted a horizon capped by the brilliant blue skies that only those who have spent time in the equatorial African bush would truly grasp.  –There seems to be a blueness and clarity that must have been painted by the gods themselves.

It is a well-known fact that in Africa you are never alone, and this is no more obvious than when nature starts to knock nervously at your consciousness as it did with me that fine morning.  There is no such thing as a “one-stop” or “ultra-city” to lure one in to refuel and refresh on the plains of darkest Africa and so the intrepid traveller must find a suitable patch and make do. Now, for some things I just plain “like my privacy’ and the privy ranks pretty high on that list. Of course, as the nature of my dilemma became more and more pressing, the less cover there seemed to be, the fewer trees and bushes and the more people were suddenly studded about the savannah.  It is a sad truth that when the bladder is crying out nothing else can enter one’s mind except to find relief.  I was not, however going to forego propriety in the process and so, after frantically searching for some suitable site for more than an hour, finally we came upon a “village” consisting of exactly 3 houses and some goats. – On the other side of the road however there was a large tree with a thick bush beneath. Without a word, Reyno – who had been watching me both squirm and refuse to go ‘just anywhere’ with growing fascination, tapped our driver on the shoulder and the car stopped.  It seemed like only seconds later, much relieved, that I noticed to my dismay that the thick bush that I was now occupying was in fact covered in a myriad of tiny, nasty and very sharp barbs. As I tried to gently extricate myself from said bush, these little barbs would grab a hold on any part of either my clothing or anatomy that they could find, leading to a very uncomfortable few minutes. – As my jeans were still around my knees I was not about to call for help! (This scene still keenly reminds me of the film "the  god's must be crazy" but without the land rover ending hoist up in a tree..) 

Finally, after some very bad language, I managed to emerge, relatively unscathed. As I rounded the tall-tree-big-bush-bathroom I was immediately accosted with the riveting site of an extremely elderly, virtually toothless Maasai bearing down on me with great enthusiasm. As he neared I began to glean that he had been partaking of something highly intoxicating and was as a result extremely happy to see me, and about to give me a great big welcoming kiss! Now, as delighted as I was to have had the use of the big tree, I was not quite ready for an up-close and personal encounter with a drunk Maasai. Thankfully my overjoyed grin whilst furiously kissing the palm of my hand and frantically waving it with as much enthusiasm as I could muster seemed to satisfy our new-found friend-for-life and we could finally haul out the spaghetti map and start asking the local populace how to find Nabarera.

Something that I love about so many of the Africans that we have met during our travels is how they consider it rude to say that they simply “don’t know’. Of course, at the time Reyno and I were both blissfully unaware of this tendency and so listened with keen interest as the local villagers and our Maasai-friend poured over the map that was now spread across the bonnet of our Land Rover. There ensued a delightfully animated discussion between the driver and several locals that had come from seemingly nowhere and now crowded around us and our ‘map’.  Every now again the word Nabarera was thrown around during a conversation of which neither Reyno nor I understood a word. Each time we would nod enthusiastically and try and follow the directions being emphatically indicated with such brazen assurance.  – We should of course have started to suspect that ignorance was playing a leading part in the whole saga when the directions seemed to be aimed in every single direction on a compass. –Good sense however was no match for our own special brand of hope and enthusiasm and so we set off once again confident that soon we would be united with this magnificent chrome tourmaline deposit and be able to sample the geology, and who knows, maybe even discover a spectacular specimen or two, for, dare I say it, a BARGAIN!

Nabarera however continued to remain an enigma. What did become clear was that the weather was rapidly approaching deluge status, with colossal clouds amassing above us as we travelled. There is something majestic, awesome and almost incredible about the rains that fall in Tanzania, and I assume other parts of equatorial and sub-equatorial Africa.  After the first few plump raindrops plop down to test gravity as it were there is a sudden and inexorable cascade of water from the skies. The rain is warm and the temptation to rush out and dance wildly in the middle of it all almost overwhelming. During this particular trip I managed to behave, however I have subsequently rushed around madly in the rains (for the children’s sake of course) feeling the rush of water cleanse my spirit whilst simultaneously showing me the power of mother nature in the most basic and irrefutable of ways.   

Mother nature was, during our search for Nabarera, doing her utmost to make the journey an intensely exciting one. We were both however delighted at the relaxed and expert manner in which our driver seemed to be almost effortlessly navigating the rapidly changing landscape. A sudden onrush of water, mud and debris was no match for John* as he calmly drifted around it all and kept us on the right track. I was mentally congratulating ourselves for at least the fourth or fifth time when John* suddenly slammed into a partially submerged, but still visible branch, and then bounced crazily across several boulders littering the roadside – his entire demeanour still as relaxed and laid-back as the blue caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and –it suddenly dawned on us- for the same reason.  John* was truly as high as the proverbial kite and must have been surreptitiously partaking of ’medicinal marijuana’ for much of the journey. – The sudden 5 minute disappearances when we stopped began to illustrate a certain need for the type of succour that did not mesh well with truly great driving ability.  –It is an interesting lesson on perspective to suddenly be faced with the dilemma of a driver that you thought was really good being, in actual fact just really inebriated. Our immediate reality before and after the shattering realisation that our driver was high remained totally unchanged; our shared state of mind however underwent a complete transformation. Seatbelts were clutched, eyes suddenly wide with mentally induced terror and breath remained bated for at least half an hour after the sudden insight.

This particular incident has ever since given me much pause for thought. How true is it that it is our perception of events that so completely rule our state of mind. When we believe we are safe, we feel safe and when we believe we are imperilled we and our endocrine systems, act accordingly. I wonder how often people live in fear when there is simply no need. – Even after we realised that John* was perhaps not quite the driver we initially thought, he still managed to bring us home safely.  The greatest stress of the day, in the end, came from our fears and dark thoughts and none from our reality. I now, in light of this sudden revelation try to steer my thoughts – which as a displaced South African, can become quite dark at times – in a direction of the positives. My life is filled with so many blessings that they are too many and too varied to even begin to document. From the basic things like a wonderful family and good health, the incredible adventures and astounding experiences life has offered me, to the blissful hopes for the future, there is no need to dwell on the harsh and ugly realities that the world is also filled with. –

 If I come across something that dismays or upsets me I see what I can do to help. If there is nothing, I pray – for that at least, we can always do, no matter which God we claim as our own. Even the agnostic and atheist can quietly send good vibes and happy thoughts towards the iniquities of our time. Once we have done what we can, it is wise to get on with living and enjoy the wonderful things that surround us, within and without.
We never did find Nabarera, or the Chrome Tourmaline deposit. We did somehow though ‘find ourselves’ on that bumpy road that led us down the antiform.

Throughout life every one of us is partaking in our own continual pilgrimage. We are constantly looking for our Nabarera and our own treasures. If we somehow come to realise along the way that our true resources are in our interactions with others and in the thoughts we dwell upon then we have found riches beyond mere mortal measure.   

*name changed for obvious reasons….

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