Category Archives: Life in the Reserve

Our Home

Our Home

Ask anyone at Londolozi where Tom and Kate live and you’ll get a confusing answer. “Below Chris and Emma, opposite Duncan and Jess and just down from the Main Kitchen”. Most people never find us and that makes our home the ‘secret Imrie enclave.’

Houses at Londolozi are accorded numbers, I guess like anywhere else in the world, except here it only matters to a spreadsheet which digitally lurks somewhere that you’d be hard pressed to find. There are no streets or grids, just arbitrary nicknames given to certain regions: Bollywood, The FC Strip, Gringo’s Tavern and Swamplands. We fall outside of all of those. Tucked away just behind Granite and Varty Camp and hidden from Google Earth by an enormous Cape Ash Tree, we have quietly gone about our lives for the last 8 years in this house. Once, when having to provide a street address, I wrote: 1 Kitchen Lane, Londolozi, Mpumalanga, South Africa. We never got any post at that address.

Well, if you do head down from the kitchen, watch your ankle. Frequent rain storms and the surge of water down the steep bank have made it a perfect track for a BMX race, and at the bottom there is a quaint wooden bridge that was constructed from a tired wooden pool recliner. It used to have a swinging wooden gate with a sign that read: The Imrie’s, but an elephant called Nightshift swept that out of his way years ago.

7 Years old, Emma hunting down Easter Eggs on the new trampoline

The garden, most summers is a sprawling attempt at Little England, a clipped green lawn, with a trampoline, netball hoop, swing-ball, errant golf balls, a sprinkler and a fortress like vegetable garden. Currently however, the termites are finishing what’s left of the grass as the current drought takes hold and the vegetable garden hasn’t seen a tomato since the last baboon raid.

An Estate Agent would write: Quaint thatched two bedroom house perched on the Sand River, neat garden and modern kitchen. Tidily furnished with bonus Trojan rowing machine (unused) included. A must see, sellers relocating abroad.

The house is two bedroomed, with a small bathroom separating the two, and a lounge that hugs the open plan kitchen. There is a front door, that the baboons can open if not locked, and a glass sliding door to the garden that they haven’t worked out yet. When the door is clean, a Yellow-billed Hornbill spends some mornings tapping on it, in a fruitless attempt at knocking out a rival. The kid’s bedroom is the roomier of the two and most weekends it becomes increasingly unnavigable as the teddy bears and toys pile up. It’s also the refuge to some wildlife that sneaks into the house. We’ve had a few snakes fall out the thatch over the years, and once the nanny drew our attention to a Marbled Tree snake that had snuggled up to Thomas during the night. Thankfully the kids have learnt the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when it comes to these reptiles, and Thomas doesn’t panic now when he finds that the spotted bush snake is back inside the house chasing geckos. Recent inhabitants are a family of Mauritian Tomb Bats, that hang delightfully upside down from the rafters in the children’s bedroom.

In-spite of living inside the fenced area of Londolozi, we’ve had some bigger visitors over the years. The most famous of the regular visits by elephants, was Nightshift- a 6 ton elephant hell bent on the destruction of our light fencing and our splendid trees in the garden. In 2012 he actually pushed an enormous Acacia onto the roof of our house, which bent the corrugated iron covering the porch and cracked the A frame wall, leaving a useful entrance to our bedroom for geckos. A few visits by the Tsalala lionesses, a female leopard, old buffalo bulls and even a stray hippopotamus once mowed the lawn for us. I once spotted a porcupine on the way down to the house, and every day the garden plays host to baboons, vervet monkeys, antelopes in the form of nyala and bushbuck and even a business of banded mongoose.

2014 Jan-April 052

Thomas, 5, stretching for a Lindt Easter Bunny. Fortress like vegetable garden and a green lawn after great 2014 rains

Most staff at Londolozi would call this place work, but having lived here for 12 years and listened to the children’s pitter-patter for 9 of those, this has quite simply become home. Is leaving it hard? You bet, but I suspect that a happy family home is the sum of the joy of the occupants and not the quality of the fixtures. We’re leaving to up the ante in the happiness regard, and we’ll joyfully take the memories of our brilliant first home with us.

When the Bush Medicine Stops Working

Londolozi is a bumpy and dusty two-hour drive from the nearest decent hospital. Being a little inclined to worry about the ‘what if’s’, I was always concerned that by living in the bushveld we were gambling with the kids well-being. Venomous snakes, hippos, crocodiles, malaria and then the iconic animals too, the ones that bite and stomp, fuelled my parenting fears and perhaps made me a little over protective.In retrospect I was being stupid, because this wilderness is probably the healthiest environment in which to raise kids. Think no pollution, no traffic, no junk food, heaps of sunshine and close proximity to lots of safe but wild animals. I’ve come to realise that it’s the (tame?) human animals on this planet that are the most dangerous.

Swimming with crocodiles in the Sand River

Swimming with crocodiles in the Sand River

Thomas and Emma have enjoyed the usual array of children’s afflictions, snotty noses and the like, and on occasion we’ve had to make the endlessly long trip out of the reserve to go and seek medical help. Not begrudgingly either, because as parents we both subscribe to the belief that little sicknesses accumulate into powerful immune systems, and so getting sick in our house has always been treated as a cheerful distraction to the norm. There have however been a few emergency dashes which have wiped the smiles off of our faces.

The first big one occurred at midnight, sometime in the summer of 2008, when Thomas was a gurgling new born and Emma had just hit a robust two. She had been running a low grade fever most of the day, and we had kept an eye on it, mostly expecting that it was an unseasonal cold heading our way. (The downside to working in a game lodge is that our guests are mostly foreigners that have carefully bought their bugs and viruses from their countries, or picked up something nasty on the journey over – generally those end up in the nostrils of our children.) We had also concerned ourselves that high fevers were a potential marker for some malaria that was doing the rounds in the area, problem being that this part of the world is redolent with the Falciparum malarial parasite, a nasty variation which if allowed to roam your bloodstream unchecked, is frequently fatal.

Anyway around about midnight I checked on Emma’s temperature and it was creeping up towards the 41*C mark. ‘Too high for teething, too high for a cold,’ I thought, and whisked her into the pick-up and made the hair-raising scramble for hospital. 2 hours and 140km’s later, Emma’s temperature was back to normal, and as a puzzled GP looked over her, she even managed a big toothy smile. That disappeared when the needle came out and he took two vials of blood from her to check for the malaria as a safety precaution.

By 5am we were back home and by 5:30 I was into the land rover for a rather weary game drive.

Collecting Red Star Zinia (and tick bite fever!)

The second emergency, when Thomas was 3, was effected by a small innocuous peanut that had magically managed to find its way deep into his right nostril. So far in fact, that there was some concern that it could slide into his sinus area- well that’s what the gathering crowd had helpfully predicted. Kate was in full charge of this emergency and had wrestled with Thomas’s nostril for over an hour. He was unhelpfully and hysterically in tears, and when as a last resort, clouds of black pepper dust had failed to eject the peanut via a sneeze, it was decided to get professional help. The paramedic who arrived after a half hour gallop from a neighbouring game reserve was not skilled or strong enough to deal with the punchy 3-year old, and so Kate had to head for town.

Hours later, the doctor eventually managed to forcep the foreign object out, but it was a close run thing with talk at one point about anaesthetic and surgery. It had unfortunately descended into an arm-wrestle and Kate had to sit on Thomas to keep him and his flailing arms pinned (wriggling children and forceps in noses aren’t ideal.) Subsequently, Thomas has a deep mistrust of medical professionals and only consultations that involve doling out sweets get anywhere. We still haven’t been able to get him into a dentist’s chair.

bush children! jungle gyms and sunsets...

Jungle Gyms and Sunsets….

Our last real emergency, was when Emma had developed Pneumonia and was rather worryingly, a very sick little girl. She was 5 at the time, and we had had a torrid winter of snotty noses, bronchitis, ear infections and peanut nostril invasions and so when Emma came down with the cold, we had quite deliberately decided to not seek out the doctor and the usual batch of antibiotics, and to let her little body fight the infection on its’ own. Two days later she woke up terrifically pale, lethargic and with these frighteningly shallow breaths that indicated she was really struggling to breathe. It was my turn to break the record for the emergency town dash, and eventually Emma was hospitalised for three nights in a rather fun and cheerful paediatric ward, an experience she relished so much that she put up a fight about being discharged. I’m not sure what the rights and wrongs of antibiotics are, and perhaps the kids have had an antibiotic that maybe, in the final assessment, they didn’t need – but I can tell you that I have no doubt that there have been times when not only was their use warranted but also urgently needed.

The malaria question has always been a big one for us. We aren’t in a high risk area but it’s a threat that keeps some visitors out of the reserve in the hot, steamy summer months. The problem with small children is that they can’t always tell you when they aren’t feeling very well or describe their symptoms accurately. So we’ve had to be careful over the years. Our defence at home when the kids were small was a fraction into the overkill department. They slept under nets, with a fan carefully aimed at their cots to make the weak-flying mosquitoes battle in the draught. We rubbed them down in the evenings with natural mosquito repellent, imported an electronic mosquito catcher from Singapore, and even had an ozone generating machine which they apparently can’t stand. Doors and windows were kept firmly shut in the evenings and the house was kept at a chilly 20*C (they don’t like the cold.)

In spite of our best laid plans it was me that came down with Malaria in October 2013. I remember waking up in the early hours with a violent, wall shaking headache and managed to beat it back with a handful of pain killers and still get to work. By lunchtime my body was shutting down, and a quick pin-prick disposable test confirmed that I needed medical help fast. I was prescribed liberal doses of quinine, anti-biotics and pain killers, and I shivered and sweated for a week as I wrestled with the parasites.

The next down was Kate. It was a little unsurprising that she would also succumb, given her week -long proximity to her sweaty husband, but her treatment was a little different and she was popped onto a short course of some rather brilliant little yellow pills, that she failed to take correctly and subsequently got within a few hours of hospitalisation and a blood transfusion. After getting the dose right, she made a remarkable recovery while we left the reserve and headed for the beach.

Emma’s malaria came and went in under 3 days. We had been anticipating that the kids might follow mom and dad into the sweaty days and nights of fever, and so when she complained of a headache, we had her in the Doctor’s office within half an hour, and onto her medication within the hour. We discovered that the little yellow pills are best swallowed with liberal amounts of ice cream and a day into her illness, she was swimming in the Indian Ocean like a carefree dolphin.

Thomas, well we’ll never know if he actually had it or not. So strong willed was the 5 year-old and with his aversion of medical professionals, when he got his malarial symptoms we treated him with the yellow pill miracle and left it at that. I think he would have needed a general anaesthetic if they had tried to take blood from him.

We’ve given a bit of thought as to what medical challenges lie ahead of us in South-east Asia, but we have teethed at Londolozi, and so have managed to relax about stepping out there.