April 2, 2007
Mole National Park
To those of you who know Graeme well, continue reading. To those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of enjoying a camping trip, an afternoon in a canoe, a bus ride, a night out at a restaurant, a card game, a beer, a golf or squash game, or just a few hours of his time, perhaps you should wait to meet him in person (namely Stella, Len, Mark Black, Dominique) before continuing to read.
Picture it: we’re walking through the African savannah with a group of six white Europeans and one black African guide. We place our feet between twigs, gingerly stepping on moist leaves instead of crisp ones, we duck our heads under branches rather than snap them, we whisper to each other, point into thickets of bush rather than use our voices to alert our fellow safari hunters of the many animals roaming through the national park. I like our guide and am eager to see western hartebeests, defassa waterbucks, red flanked duikers and the elusive roan antelope. I think ‘I am the bush, I am an animal’ in an effort to be as quiet as possible. And then, it scurried up behind me…the Kluane barking squirrel, endemic in areas where cans of beans are eaten, and where toilet facilities are lacking. Its distinctive smell and sharp call make it a favourite with kids and lovers of the whoopee cushion. Yes, that’s right we came all the way to West Africa to only come face to face with a species I’m becoming more and more familiar with. A ‘pardon me’ could not suffice in masking its odor and our laughter at its surprise visit. From Safari to SafarTi. To ensure over exposure of the aforementioned Kluane barking squirrel we kept to the back of the line during our walk through the African savannah.
What are these? I mean really, is it a distant relative of the pig or a rhino? After careful examination (namely it eats like a pig, but walks and acts like a rhino) we’ve decided the grey, wrinkly skin and the horns qualify the African warthog to be closer to a rhino. In a typical western-centric way I want to name these beasts and document their every movement. Ghanaians scoff at them and throw black plastic bags at their hooves. I think they’re hilarious and nearly fell off my chair when we watched mama beastie and her six children trot off to bed in single file during our first night at the Mole National Park Motel.
Now, the elephants, they warrant more attention! They command attention in fact. These gentle giants were elusive the two days we spent at the national park. In fact, we had to hire a jeep, a guide with a gun and a driver to get to these majestic beasts. This goes against our principle of leaving as little impact on the land as possible, however, a sacrifice had to be made this close to the rainy season if we were to see elephants. (during the dry season they hang out closer to the watering hole near the national park’s motel, and have been known to drink from the pool!). Elephants truly live up to the title of world’s largest land mammal and seem to have more than five senses. They think a lot. They laugh, cry, mourn their dead and communicate long distances through vibrations. I need no more convincing of their power than what I saw in the African savannah of Mole National Park.
Am watching the moments between dawn and morning carefully. During our recent trip to the northern part of the Ghana we were fortunate to witness the sunrise twice. In both instances, the lines between the real and the imagined were blurred and I was again reminded to suspend expectations and belief of what is ‘normal.’ We saw kitties slipping into gutters, bats turn to birds and people rise from the ground ready to embrace another day with a bowlful of yams on their heads. Africa is wondrous in that space between dark and light.