My Mother – Part 4, Mother and I Tour an African Game Preserve

A giraffe watches as we drive by. Mother loved giraffes.

A giraffe watches as we drive by. Mother loved giraffes.

In 1975, my folks divorced and my father sold the farm to a developer for a goodly sum. These events set each of us on new courses in our lives. With money from the sale, he set mother up comfortably for the rest of her life.

No longer bound to the responsibilities of land ownership, Lois was free follow her sense of adventure and desire to travel. Even before then, after I had graduated from high school, she began to organize and lead trips to Europe for her French class students.

Looking for something challenging to do, Mother joined the Peace Corps in 1976. After her initial training, she was assigned to the Kingdom of Lesotho, a free black mountain nation totally within the borders of South Africa where she was a curriculum adviser to the school system and a teacher.

As we rounded a curve, we came face-to-face with a rhino that was every bit as big, and probably heavier than her car. I could not get Mother to slow down long enough to get a clear photo!

As we rounded a curve, we came face-to-face with a rhino that was every bit as big, and probably heavier than her car. I could not get Mother to slow down long enough to get a clear photo!


In 1977 I flew to Lesotho to spend a couple of weeks with her. For me, it was one adventure after another. We stayed in motel-type chalets in Mafteng, a village some 20 miles from the capitol city of Maseru (me-say’-roo). These cabins were two-unit rock walled chalets with thick (grass) thatched roofs. These were relatively new, nicely finished, and comfortable. Thatched roofs are open inside, that is, the exposed underside of thatch was the ceiling in the room. This is the common construction practice. After several years, the thatch becomes home to many little creatures—insects, small lizards, etc. These were new roofs/ceilings and had not yet developed active ecosystems.

While in Lesotho, we visited other small villages, experienced flooding rains, and toured the capital of Maseru. Many natives spoke English—British English with a heavy native accent.

Mother, holding the camera, engages in a stare-down with a baboon sitting on the hood of the car

Mother, holding the camera, engages in a stare-down with a baboon sitting on the hood of the car

Mother knew I would enjoy going through a game reserve, so we drove to the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve in South Africa, north of Lesotho. There we stayed in chalets similar to those in Mafteng, except that these were much older with “mature” thatched roofs. Mother was not fazed. “This is the way everyone in Lesotho lives,” she explained. Several times during the night, I felt some little critter fall out of the ceiling. I was assured there was nothing harmful living above. However, the next morning, as I woke and opened my eyes, across the room high up on the wall was a large brown spider with what I estimated was a four-to-five-inch leg span. When I stirred, it promptly disappeared into the ceiling.

Snakes have never bothered me, but spiders….

No cracks about local customs inspectors! They  have no sense of humor.

No cracks about local customs inspectors! They have no sense of humor.

That afternoon, we drove through the preserve. The sparsely traveled dirt road wound through the tall-grass savannah, between acacia trees with carpet-needle-sized spines. We saw giraffe, ostrich, baboons, and many antelope and wildebeest.

Lois had a bright yellow Volkswagen “beetle” with right-hand drive. As we rounded a bend, off to our left (my side) was a huge rhino. He lifted his massive head and turned toward us. I was eager to get photos; Lois was eager to get away. Rhinos are notorious for poor eyesight, but she thought the animal would most certainly see the bright yellow car. I snapped as many photos as I could as she eased the car down the road, gradually gaining speed.

Within a few minutes, we encountered a troop of baboons and had to stop while they crossed the road, but they stopped too and approached the car. “Keep the windows rolled up,” Mother warned. The next thing I knew, there was a baboon on the hood of the car, looking through the windshield at us. Finally, he climbed off of the car, rejoined the troop and disappeared into the savannah.

Ostriches are five to six feet tall, giving some indication of the depth of the savanna grass.

Ostriches are five to six feet tall, giving some indication of the depth of the savanna grass.

After Lois left the Peace Corps, she settled in St. Augustine Florida, where she became a volunteer at the Lightner Museum—a position that suited her perfectly. She was surrounded by history, became knowledgeable about St. Augustine, and greatly enjoyed talking to visitors (i.e., teaching) about the various collections and displays in the museum.

When the urge struck, she would travel. During these years she rode the Trans-Canada railway to Banff, flew to Peru to explore Machu Pichu, toured castles in England, and visited much of the United States. I have scrapbooks, photo albums, and cases of 35mm slides of her travels.

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4 Responses to My Mother – Part 4, Mother and I Tour an African Game Preserve

  1. Pingback: Renaissance Musings Table of Contents | Renaissance Musings

  2. Freckles says:

    What a brave and interesting lady!

  3. I remember seeing the slideshow presentation about your trip to Africa, Jeff, back in the late 1970s. I saw it several times, and I think it played a backstory role in inspiring me to do the Peace Corps as well in the 1990s in Fiji. When I initially applied I imagined I’d end up in a thatch-roofed hut like your pictures showed Lois living in, but no: it was more like a cottage or a camphouse inhabited at times by geckos (but no spiders). Later, in another foreign adventure in Central America, I saw people’s homes surrounded by walls with broken bottles cemented to the top — something I remembered seeing a picture of in your show. I thought: “Wow, this is just like in Lesotho! Small world!” That slide show was my first exposure to the fact that other lands and cultures did indeed exist outside of the US. I have had the great fortune of living in at least four countries in different parts of the world, and I wonder if my international inclinations began with your slideshow on Lesotho. I’ve often wondered about Lois, what became of her. I’m glad to know she kept traveling (I too would love to tour Machu Pichu) both abroad and in the US. She and I are similar in that respect. She seemed always interested in what went on beyond the confines of her immediate environment. Nice blog, by the way, with some beautiful writing like that in a book you gave me a long time ago entitled “Cool, Clear Water” by Bob and Ira Spring and Harvy Manning. Glad to know photography is still your passion.

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