WALK WITH BUSHMEN
A walk in the veld with a Bushman guide at Grassland Bushman Lodge takes about 90 minutes and costs R250 per person. If you want to visit Rooibrakke, it’s best to arrange with Grassland a few days in advance. The trip there costs R5 000, irrespective of the size of your group. This rate includes an antelope being shot for meat, which is delivered to the Rooibrakke community during your visit, as well as your transport there and back in a game-viewing vehicle. The visit lasts a few hours and Willie de Graaff suggests that you go in the afternoon so you can see the people dancing around the fire at dusk.
The money that the lodge makes out of these visits is used to help the people of Rooibrakke. You can also support the initiative by purchasing some handmade items, which are for sale at Grassland and Rooibrakke. GPS: S21.72271 E22.35866 Contact: 00 267 72 104 270; 00 267 72 111 506; reservations@grasslandlodge. com; Facebook: “Grassland Bushman Lodge Botswana” pellets? It’s a duiker’s. We use duiker pelt to make clothes; it’s nice and soft. And this spoor belongs to a wildebeest. It stood still. Stood looking that way. And then it got a fright. See here; it took off and ran this way. Yes, see, this is jackal spoor. The wildebeest was startled by the jackal, because the jackal was trotting downwind from it. Aeyo! Here’s water! Do you see it? No, not on top of the sand, underneath. Under these small leaves. These leaves are part of the water. Watch – we’re going to dig out the water. The leaves are attached to this big bulb in the sand. We cut shavings off the bulb. Now squeeze out the liquid from the shavings and drink it. Aeyo! It is water! We put the bulb back in the sand because it continues to grow and we can drink again. And this plant is used to treat headache. This one helps for stomach ache. This one’s root is edible; it’s also full of water. Dig underneath these leaves. Aeyo! It’s a Bushman potato. Bring it along.
Thus you walk with Qhaikhao and his companions and the Kalahari becomes a pantry, stocked with food and bulbs filled with water.
Later you’ll sit and you’ll be shown how to start a fire using two sticks from a corkwood tree (kanniedood in Afrikaans). It’s not easy and it takes a long time. The one stick is drilled into a groove in the second one. Drilled, drilled, drilled until an ember the size of an antlion lies in the groove and a thin spiral of smoke comes from the sawdust. The ember and the sawdust are placed in a pile of dry grass. Some gentle blowing. More smoke and then, whoosh, it catches fire.
The Bushman potato is placed in the fire, together with the seeds of a kind of creeper. And then we eat. I can’t stop myself from grabbing more and more braaied seeds from a tortoise shell that serves as a dish – they’re delicious, like roasted nuts. After the meal we quench our thirst with cold water from a dug-up ostrich eggshell.
After the walk, Qhaikhao and Willie take me to Rooibrakke, about 20 km north-east of Grassland. It’s a Bushman settlement in the buffer zone between the Central Kalahari and the farms. There are only about 60 people in the community and they still hunt for their meat – on horseback with spears.
“The lifestyle of the people here is the closest you’ll find anywhere to how the Bushmen used to live,” Willie says.
The Botswanan government doesn’t do much for the community. The people are almost invisible in that sense – they don’t bother anyone and they get nothing in return. To help out, Willie and some other people from the surrounding farming community take groceries to Rooibrakke every now and then, and they bring paying tourists. Every little bit helps.
Two sandy tracks wind through bush to the settlement, past gemsbok and zebra. If you were to fall ill here, you’d have to treat yourself with medicine from the veld. And if that medicine were to fail, your soul might go off to the great god’s house in the sky.
The people of Rooibrakke are grateful for the wildebeest that Qhaikhao has brought them. The men quickly cut up the meat while the women sing and play a game with a ball made out of bags – they throw it to one another and do some rope skipping, all to the beat of their clapping hands.
The wildebeest liver is placed in the fire and the men also start to dance, with rattles tied to their legs, around the women and the fire. Round and round and round until the air is hazy and a deep circle has been trampled into the sand.
The liver is raked out of the ash and everyone gets a taste. I feel like dancing, too. To say thank you. Thank you that the earth, the sun and the moon have aligned so I could be here today in this unspoilt place, with people who, until now, have only existed to me as images on rock walls.
As I stand talking to Qhaikhao and one of the Rooibrakke men, I notice how skinny the people of Rooibrakke are compared with those who live at Grassland. I ask Qhaikhao if he feels sorry for the people who live out here – they’re so isolated and it looks as if they suffer hardship.
Qhaikhao smiles. “No,” he says. “They’re in the veld. The veld is lekker.”