the spoors of KZN

Guess what?  Humans are animals.   Check it out!

While this is a blatantly obvious fact, I think it’s one that we often forget.  At least, when I was in the States, driving to amusement parks or eating Honey Baked Ham or betting at the horse track, I forgot.  By moving to a rural village and both advertently and inadvertently eliminating most of the amenities and materialistic extensions of my person, our most basic truth has been returned to me: we are animals.  It’s simply our nature; we can’t not be.  While I think similar observations can be noted in cities or Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 9.43.49 PMmore developed areas, living out here “in the sticks” has allowed me to be more cognizant of just how animalistic we are.  It’s funny; noticing these things has made me feel like I’ve progressed in science and perhaps anthropology, but it’s simply taking a step back and appreciating the basic building blocks of life and, to it, the minute list of things that are actually essential. What follows are observations I’ve made here that can also be connected back to examples from my previous living style…

Grinding up some "mealies" before winter comes!

Grinding up some “mealies” before winter comes!

We flock to the areas that will benefit us (village water tap; Costco).  We carry our young in transport (babies tied to their mothers’ backs with towels; babies pushed in strollers).  We compete with rivals for glory, territory, or mates (aggressive marriage proposals here; college football title).  We hunt and/or gather using deception and teamwork (whistling to communicate while herding cattle; divvying up a grocery list).  We herd and/or hoard possessions (stocking up on maize for the winter; buying this week’s 2-for-1 special).  We seek out fire or the sun for warmth and water or shade to cool off (hiding in the dimness between huts or lying in the sun; ducking into malls for the A/C or cranking up the fire beneath the mahogany mantle).  We are creatures of habit (milking the cows at a specified time each morning; sitting in the same seat all semester

The husband of one of my (alpha FEmale!)  traditional leaders

The husband of one of my (alpha FEmale!)
traditional leaders

long).  We often travel in groups and there is usually a leader; an alpha, commonly based on age (the village traditional leader guiding a walk; the driver of a yellow school bus).

Must I warn before I strike? (I actually leave them be but, shoot, I get the heebie-jeebies something fierce)

Must I warn before I strike? (I actually leave them be but, shoot, I get the heebie-jeebies something fierce)






We warn before we strike (a verbal “Ngizokushaya” before a blow; a “Hey, dude, watch it” in a bar before a testosterone showdown).

We make sure our offspring are clean, warm, safe, and fed (examples abundant).  We, at least in the village, try to use all parts of a fellow animal for sustenance, medicine, tools, clothing, or other functions.  We need the elements; earth, water, air, and fire are the natural gods on which we fervently depend.  Weather dictates most things (tasks, food production, travel, gatherings, etc.).  We typically eat more in the winter because we subconsciously know it directly translates to warmth.  We use our raw senses to understand what comes next (why the direction of the wind matters, what a burning odour may alert, why pain receptors are vital, etc.).  We are intrigued by certain things that the plush world may commonly regard as grotesque (I am recalling when Zweli and I followed the stench of death to its source – I’m not sure why; to pay homage, or to see what it once was, who knows…).  Here, familial clans are more apparent and are typically respected and regarded as one unit (and within that comes hierarchical standing based on age and gender).

Michelle sent me NUTELLAAA!

Michelle sent me NUTELLAAA!

And perhaps the most animalistic as well as the most controversial: we typically put ourselves or our kin first (especially when we don’t think we’re on stage).  It is interesting to watch procedure when a taxi pulls up with a small number of empty seats, or there is a shortage of water or food, or limited space in a hut to sleep, etc… what’s the cause for us “humanimals” – is it selfishness?  The innate trigger of ‘survival of the fittest’?  Both?  All of the above are some of the more literal ways I’ve felt and seen humans’ truly animalistic ways, both over here and in America.  Now for the more abstract…

The usual spoor I follow on the way to school. It's rather camouflaged and difficult to track...

The usual spoor I follow when I bike to school. It’s rather camouflaged and difficult to track…



A ‘spoor’ is a track or trail of an animal.  As you may have deduced, I’ve seen many more spoors here than I have in the States.  It’s pretty neat – on my way to school I either follow the spoors of livestock through the bush or I ride my bike on the spoors of humans’ vehicles.  I can look at the earth in front of my porch and see what type of life has passed by that day – I think footprints are my favourite.  A couple weeks ago Zweli and I collected our cows that had wandered quite a bit.  He took me up the mountain at dusk and as we were herding them back towards home it began to rain.  We started to run down the stones that I had so carefully picked my way up before.  It was invigorating – no commonly treaded path or garbage in sight; just humans and cows trotting together on virgin landscape, trusting their feet, instincts, and reflexes.  I’ve never felt more like Pocahontas and, man (or should I say, animal), did I love it!


Pawing the ground and smelling the air,
It kicks up dust to understand the past
And guess at the future.
Hearing a sound it crouches low
In defense and excitement.
A shrike shoots up and it releases its tension –
This fellow animal is not a threat.
The winds shift and it starts home:
The rains are coming.
Upon arrival it sees its mate,
Sustaining their offspring from its plump udder.
It rubs up against them in greeting
And to mark its own, its clan.
It puts up barriers and blocks the openings
So that they may sleep another night, safe from predators.
It gathers its kin and they hunker down
Under the Cyclops of the moon.
They are safe. They survive.
They are human. They are animals.

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Some heart-warming school updates:

Grade 7 on Movie Monday. Coming from a village without electricity or media, their expressions and laughs are incredible to watch and hear.

Grade 7 on Movie Monday. Coming from a village without electricity or media, their expressions and laughs are incredible to watch and hear.

–        I started something called Movie Mondays with grade 7…each Monday from 14:00-14:30 they get to watch a chapter of a movie, receive questions about it (utilizing prior knowledge, recall, opinions, and foreshadowing), and must return their answers to me within the week to be eligible for the next Monday’s installment.  We’ve done two weeks so far (obviously watching Lion King, what else?) and it’s gone amazingly well!  Since I don’t teach them, it’s been nice to spend time with the grade 7s; many have begun to approach me more frequently, smile more, and are more willing to test out their English both with me and with each other.  Gracias, media.

–        Right before a weekly spelling test last Friday one of my grade 6s, Nompumelelo, leapt up to erase the remnants of the previous day’s review on the board.  They could have used that on the test because I had completely missed it so, whether her classmates were happy or not, I was thrilled and humbled!

–        My Life Skills counterpart and I started GrassrootSoccer with grade 7 last week.  It’s gone quite well…I’ve been surprised with the information the learners have volunteered about HIV and am enjoying using games and energizers to make sure they trade myths and stigmas for factual knowledge of the risks, reality, and viable treatment of HIV.  Yay!

I hope all is well State-side… I love and miss everyone – you crazy animals, you.  Keep making your spoors unique!

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This entry was posted in Cultural Experiences, Musings..., Village Life. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to the spoors of KZN

  1. Mary Archer says:

    Laura, you are making new spoors for your learners in the paths of knowledge, understanding, and acceptance (as in ‘that white girl who is not afraid to be with us’). And, actually, your learners and village dwellers are opening up new spoors of culture and friendships and latent talents in your own journey. Your poem is special, and your insights are thought-provoking. The soccer venture holds great promise, of course. So glad that is now a reality. Love you, Girl!

  2. Emily ARcher says:

    Ellbee!! You crazy poet you . . . actually the whole darn thing is a prose poem. I defy anyone to come up with better evidence for our animalia kinship. And spoors–that’s a totally new one to me, but now I’ll be looking for them everywhere. You must’ve heard your ears burning today, as I was telling (no, bragging) about you to a Humanities Council colleague who was a PVC once upon a time in Mali! And before that, I was talking to another colleague about you, because he’s going on a safari in S. A. sponsored by Zulu, who only accepts people who bid on behalf of other non-profits–how COOL is that?!? I love you so much it hurts. Aunt Em

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