Botswana 1995

Me and Sam, the expedition cook, talked the evening away with the bearded stranger and his wife, sitting under the huge full moon in the clear Botswanan sky. He seemed to know a lot. He was certain, for example, that men had indeed walked on the moon, as we had heard before.

As we had punted them around the Okavango delta in our wooden mokoro that day there were definitely things he didn’t know.  One time we came around a corner and saw a huge elephant just ahead of us with its ears out wide:  he didn’t know that was a bad sign. We clanged pots loudly, set fire to a few reeds – and, praise be to God, off the elephant went. We came to a pool about twenty feet across and a large crocodile was sunning itself on the opposite bank. It slid silently into the water. ‘Do we get out?’ he asked in a plaintive and hopeful voice. Oh no, a peaceful boat bottom is safer than people splashing onto banks. I know a lot about animals: I have lived in the region all my life and been a guide for nearly twenty years. I had even spotted a Pel’s fishing owl for them.

At dusk we had made camp, Sam baked his delicious bread in a pit he dug, and we ate it with the stew. After dinner we lay back and relaxed, knowing there wasn’t likely to be another human being within a day’s walk. We stared upwards into the moonlit sky and we talked. We talked of the plague that was HIV/AIDS, of the South African mines which drew so many young people away from the delta, the attractions of Europe (we couldn’t understand them) and lots more. He clearly knew a lot, but we found there was one question he couldn’t answer: he didn’t know whether the people who had walked on the moon had seen God.