Life goes on

Sometimes life makes plans for you which are in complete contradiction to the plans you made for you.  For me, it’s more than sometimes, it’s almost always.  Like I told my mom the other day, I learned that I can steer my boat in the approximate direction I’d like to go, but ultimately, life’s river is going to take me where it wants to, so I just go with the flow.  There’s no point in resisting, you can’t change the direction of a river. Unless you’re Chicago.

That’s the way it was with Namibia.  It was never on my agenda (1. move out of mom’s house, 2. find job, 3. graduate from college, 4. live on cattle farm in Namibia.  Um, no.)  But the river brought me here and I tried to make the best of it, even when it got downright absurd, which was often.  Starting this blog back in 2011 was a way for me to get the stories out of me and into the world.  Kind of like therapy.

In the years since then, I slowly found a niche, found projects to fill the days and work I felt made a difference.  Again, not stuff I’d ever planned on doing, just stuff that the time and place called for.

And today that stuff has brought me to another unexpected endeavor – grad school, with my research based on a side project I started here on the farm back in 2009.

Weird how things work out.

So, my boat floats on to new adventures and the energy I devoted to this blog is now needed elsewhere.  Many thanks to everyone who supported it and me along the way.

I can swim with the scorpions now.  And with a smile.


Baboons + dogs + drought = not good

It was Saturday afternoon.  Hot, but we cooled off with a dip in the pool.  We read a bit, then laid down for a nap, minds relaxed because it was Saturday – we knew we didn’t have to get up for work, no farm staff until Monday.

Yet, our eyes weren’t closed long, when I felt Jay climb out of bed.  I didn’t concern myself at first, sometimes he gets ideas and gets up, and it was a quick thing – he’s one of those people who can get up in a flash.  I’m one of those who has to flop around for ten minutes then force my eyes open and drag myself out.  I began this process when I realized he wasn’t coming back.  Something was up.  I had managed to roll over, not yet gotten my eyes open, when a gun shot rang out.

And with that, I was on my feet.

A random shot in the afternoon usually means one of two things: rabid kudu at the gate or baboon in the garden.  In the case of a kudu, it’s meant to kill.  For baboons, it’s meant to scare away.  This afternoon, I knew it was for baboons because they’d been after our fruit trees for a while now.

A rainy season that doesn’t rain is hard on everyone, for many reasons, but at least we humans still manage to eat.  The wildlife, after the long dry season, depends on rain – no rain means no food and no food means visiting the humans, even if they have to dodge a bullet on the way.

But that’s usually all it is, a bullet.  Singular.  So, I got dressed, but not in any particular hurry.  Not until I heard Jay’s voice, “Sniiiffffeeeelllll!”, followed by our little dog’s incessant barking disappearing into the distance, and then another gun shot.

And then the stomach dropped.

Our doofy little dog, Sniffel, rarely deems something worthy of barking at.  He’s a pretty live-and-let-live kind of guy.  But something in his terrier brain snaps when he hears a gun shot.  He must, under any circumstance, be a part of the hunt.  He doesn’t know what the prey is, he doesn’t know where it is, but no matter, he’s off at top speed to find it.  Which is exactly what he did on this Saturday afternoon.

SniffdogThere were two things wrong with this.  One: baboons can be dangerous if provoked, say by doofy little barking dogs.  They are big, strong, and have some serious teeth.  Two: one baboon might not take on a doofy little dog, but a whole troop might just tear it apart.  Especially if they’re all hungry.  And as Sniffel ran after the one baboon that took off up the hill, Jay watched as it stopped, turned around, and ran back in the direction of the dog, with its whole troop behind him.

babsThis is when Jay yelled, fired the second shot, and I got my pants on and my ass out the door.

I ran in the direction of the barking, both dog and baboon – out the front gate, toward the main road.  I couldn’t see Jay or Sniff, but a second later he fired a third shot and cloud of smoke rose from half way up the hill.  What it meant, I didn’t know, but then all was quiet.

I think I would’ve kept running, oblivious to the whizzing bullets or hungry, pissed off baboons, but then Jay popped out of the brush, rifle in one hand, little dog in the other.  Sniff was panting wildly, tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, enormous grin on his face.  He was obviously very proud of himself.

Jay spilled the whole story once down from the hill, explaining how Sniffel hadn’t originally followed him outside, he must’ve slipped through the gate after the first shot.  All he saw was a bolt of white tearing up the hill and he couldn’t stop it.  And we had both been afraid that we’d lost our dog.

The drought continues, as does the battle with the baboons.  There is a degree of sympathy for hungry wildlife, but wildlife that can eat your dog is not something to welcome onto the yard.

We wonder what the rest of the year will be like, when the chance of rain disappears for another six months and the animals still haven’t eaten.  All we can do is now though is watch the sky and keep the gun nearby.

Oh my Africa – February 2015

It’s just over a week into February and already there are three unique and remarkable competitors for this post.

Mugabe almost won with his complete denial of tripping over a red carpet and the resulting memes that have swept the internet.

Also tempting was the riot at the Africa Cup football semi-finals.  Equatorial Guinea fans were pissed that their team was losing and started throwing stuff.  Apparently, police tried to quell the uprising but we viewers at home could only see the helicopter they sent in three separate times which didn’t accomplish anything.  I think they just wanted to show off and/or play with, their whirlybird.

I’m going with the local story though, this compelling read from the Namibian, an English-language newspaper over here:

As far as I can tell, a newspaper’s job is to inform its readers; tell them stuff they do not already know.
One thing all Namibians are very well aware of is that it is not raining.
Yet, in the first paragraph, readers were informed that a new bulletin “indicated that rainfall was generally low in the north-west and north-central parts of Namibia in November and December”.  And that satellite images of vegetation also indicated below-average grazing conditions in some of the northern areas.
Surely, this million-dollar satellite could be put to better use.
The article goes on to tell us that the rest of the season could bring normal or below normal rains.  Which could reduce crop yields and delay harvests.  It all depends on an El Niño event that might occur in the 2014/2015 season.

But, it concludes, “not all El Niño events have resulted in low rainfall in the region, with some areas being more regularly affected than others”.
Thank goodness for the falling dictators and rioting soccer fans to fill the rest of the newspaper.

Oh my Africa – January 2015

Maybe my mind is in the gutter here, but perhaps this is not the best name for something you want people to eat.  It’s a good example of how snappy abbreviations and misspellings for product names, though extraordinarily popular for some reason, aren’t always a good idea.  Yet, the commonality of this product in stores around the country, and probably southern Africa, suggests I’m alone in my opinion.  Any thoughts?

Crackers anyone?

Cracker anyone?


Something new for dinner

My explorations into Namibian cuisine have taken another step.  You may not want to hear about it, but hey, if you read my oryx brain story, this one should go down easy. Ready?

Jay and I ate deep-fried zebra snake.


It went like this:

Our chickens were in a major brooding mood.  A few of them were just desperate to sit on some eggs, and we wanted more chickens, so we let them.  The first hen hatched 13 eggs, and with that we doubled our chicken herd.

The second clutch was a bit of an accident.  The hen hid her eggs in tall grass and before we knew it, she disappeared to sit on them.  In time, we found her and her eggs, and with a bit more time, 10 chicks hatched.

Back in the coop, we could hardly keep the hens from sitting so we let one more have a chance.  Eventually, 8 more chicks were born.

Doing the maths, we now had 31 baby chickens running around.

No matter where in the world they were, these helpless balls of meat would attract predators.  I knew better than to expect them all to survive to adulthood, but nevertheless, when they began to disappear, it was depressing.

The original thirteen stayed strong.  Either their mom was tough and kicked some ass whenever something tried to grab one, or they just got lucky.  The second batch of ten, though, had a newbie, slightly air-headed, mom, and within a week, they were whittled down to five.

Then, the third batch began to dwindle – one or two at a time, every few days.  We had a repeat offender on our hands; a nocturnal snake who knew he’d found the jackpot.

When a python took one of the thirteen, who were now pretty big, he was too fat to escape.  So we hauled him out the next morning and transported him far from the house.  But the chicks kept disappearing.

One morning, I found another of the thirteen unable to walk.  His leg had a clear snake bite on it, and he died soon after.  Now we knew we had a venomous snake – that ruled out another python.  And mambas being day snakes left only one other suspect: the zebra snake.

Zebra snake. Photo courtesy

We began fortifying our coops.  Normally, we use just one, but with all these new animals, we were using two old, non-snake-proof ones.  We fixed holes, cemented around the bases, put up extra mesh fencing, and rested better once they were done, thinking the chickens were safe.

Yet the next morning, two more of the oldest chicks were dead but not eaten, a third paralyzed, and one of the younger chicks gone and another half-eaten and then regurgitated.  It was frustrating enough having my chickens become snake food, but to have them killed and not be anyone’s food was even worse.

I declared war.

My grand plan of attack, as told to Jay: hang bells around the coop wherever a snake might enter and then sleep outside.  “Whenever a bell rings”, I told him, “I’m going out there, and I’m taking the shotgun.”

Jay assured me this wasn’t necessary (kindly brushing aside the fact that we own approximately two bells, one being strapped to a goat’s neck, and I have only a slim idea of how to work the shotgun which is a bit overkill, anyway).  His much more realistic plan: attach a spotlight to a car battery and set it near the coop.  We then set the alarm for 3 a.m. and go out there, well-lit, in search of a snake.

Right on schedule, the snake turned up the second night.  And we didn’t even have to set the alarm, he was in the coop before we went to bed.  Jay took the appropriate-sized rifle, I held the light, and a minute later we had a dead, meter-long zebra snake.

Doing my maths again, this one snake had killed 14 chicks.  To ensure that they didn’t die in vain, in my mind, there was only one thing to do: we had to eat the snake.

Our farm staff was as clueless as we were about how to prepare a snake, not to mention completely revolted by the whole idea.  So, we briefly consulted the internet, then grabbed a knife and chopped off its head.

headlessThe head contains the venom, so headless venomous snakes are safe to eat.  The next task was to remove the skin.  First, we cut the bits holding it to the muscle,

skin be goneand after that, the skin peeled right off.

skin removalThen, out came the guts,

gutsthat contained the last of the last baby chicken,

my chickand just like that we had innards to toss, meat to eat, and a skin to . . . do something with.

3 of a kindIn the kitchen, the meat was chopped up,

filetsbattered up,

bread crumbin'and fried up.

deep fryMost people say that snake meat, ironically, tastes like chicken.  Not being a big meat eater myself, that’s the best comparison I have for you.  Jay constructively noted that it tasted like snake. In any case, there was about as much meat as there was bone, making for a tedious meal.  I’m certainly interested in trying other, fatter species, though.

So, ye legless varmints beware, there be snake eaters on this here farm.

Oh my Africa – November 2014

I’m bound to read any news article that has the word ‘bizarre’ in the title, but unfortunately, this one ended in ‘puts newly discovered species in jeopardy’.

Yes, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the new plant species, along with 900 other plant varieties and 1,400 chimpanzees, are unprotected against roaming people, their cattle, and other destructive activities.  Some folks misread some maps, or perhaps didn’t read the maps at all, and put the reserve’s borders more than 50 kilometers west of where they should’ve been.

To add salt to the wound, this newly discovered flowering plant, Dorstenia luamensis, found only on a few cliff faces inside this once protected area, was named after the park, the Luama Katanga Reserve, which no longer exists.  Established in 1947 near Lake Tanganyika, and a globally important biodiversity hotspot called Kabobo, the actual borders were confused during the DRC’s civil wars, and now the government has reserved a chunk of not-so-globally-important land.

“The moral of this story is that keeping track of parks – and especially getting maps and boundaries correct – matters hugely for biodiversity. The call to action here is to fix the records and re-protect the reserve before this unique plant and all the biodiversity it contains…are destroyed,” said James Deutsch, Vice President of Conservation Strategy of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), whose scientists discovered the plant and the mapping error.

Although the WCS has lobbied the DRC government to fix the mistake, they have taken no action.

The new plant. Credit: Miguel Leal/WCS


Farm baby pictures

It’s something like spring here on the farm.  The weather is nothing to judge it by, it does whatever it wants to; cloud poofs or clear blue sky, gale force wind or dead still.  But in between the meteorological absurdity, life is springing up around the farm.

Check out the new:



baby orangesPrickly pear cactus

baby cactusChickens

baby chickensPomegranates

baby pomegranatesFrogs

tadpolesAnd the cats abandoned by their mom on our yard

kittensOne died, but after a brief adjustment period, the other got the hang of life with humans.  This was the first time she purred.

purrAbout ten days old, she opened her eyes.  Soon she was creeping around.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m still not sure what to do with a fourth cat, an African wild cat, nonetheless.  Even if she doesn’t act like one.

bottle timeMaybe she’ll grow up and follow her instincts into the bush.  Or maybe she’ll help with mouse duty on the yard.  All I know is that life on the farm is one day at a time.

That, and the weather better get its act together and bring us some rain.