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Average Jo CHAPTER 2

by mafunyane 

Posted: 01 October 2008
Word Count: 2925
Summary: 13 year old Jo Baker has joined her film-making aunt and uncle for the summer: in Kruger National Park, filming elephants. Chapter 1 covers her travel to the camp where she is staying. Chapter 2 picks up on the same day. NB This is a rehashed version of previous chapters 1, 2 and 3 - trying to get some of the action into the book earlier. So it may be familiar to some of you. But is it better?
Related Works: Average Jo Chapter 1 • Average Jo Chapter 4 • Average Jo synopsis V2 • 

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Average Jo and the Magnificent Seven

Chris drove through the open wooden gates, past two tiny petrol pumps and drew up near the Camp’s main office. They all jumped out.

‘We need to go and see the rangers, Jo. To get the accommodation and film permits,’ said Ky.

‘Why don’t you stay and have a look around camp?’ asked Chris. ‘You can take this’. He pulled a battered old daysack out of the boot and shoved it towards Jo. The heavy contents poked deep into her stomach.

‘Ow! What is it?’

‘A new toy,’ replied Chris. ‘Take care of it, now’.

‘I’m not sure how long we’ll be,’ said Ky sorting through a pile of papers on the front seat.

‘We’re on Africa time now,’ said Chris. Ky nodded back. ‘We’ll be at least an hour, JoJo, probably more. I know. We’ll find you at the Elephant Hall. There’s plenty to keep you occupied there. OK?’

Jo didn’t really want to be left on her own in this new place. But she didn’t want to get in the way. So she agreed to find the Elephant Hall (whatever it was) and meet her aunt and uncle there in an hour or so. As they walked off towards the rangers’ quarters, Jo rested the daysack on the back seat of the car and opened it up. She delved in to discover a chunky Canon camera with a lens longer than her hand and an inch-thick instruction booklet. Wow. It was more than a toy. She turned around to shout a grateful thank you to her uncle, and came face to face with a damp black nose, a pair of large pretty eyes and two comedy ears so pink they almost glowed. Jo swung herself back against the car. The rusty brown antelope was stretching its head towards her, complete with two short, but sharp-looking, horns. Its whiskers almost brushed her chest. It couldn’t be dangerous could it? Because it was unfeasibly cute. Just like Bambi. But even cute things could be bad news.

Jo stood as still as possible and tapped her foot gently on the ground, kicking a small dust cloud under Bambi’s chin. The antelope rolled its long slobbery tongue around its face but didn’t move. Jo wasn’t sure what to do next.

‘Ho-ay more-ah.’

Jo looked up to face a scrawny young boy. Wearing surf gear and flip-flops he looked dressed for the beach. His eyes were hidden behind a floppy sun-bleached fringe and his skin had a deep natural tan. ‘Ouk hund et?’ he virtually spat the words out at Jo. The hacking guttural accent sounded like her German teacher in her Monday mood.

‘Er, hi,’ responded Jo uncertainly. She realized, a little belatedly, that it might have been useful to learn some Afrikaans before she’d left home. Was he saying something important about the animal that had her pinned up against the Land Cruiser?

‘Oh, you are English?’ Jo nodded. ‘I’m Lourens. Lourens de Klerk,’ said the boy. ‘Good day.’ He held out his hand in a formal greeting. Jo reached her arm tentatively over the antelope’s head and shook Lourens’ hand as quickly as she could.

‘I’m sorry I… I can’t speak Afrikaans.’

‘How are you?’

How does it look like I am, thought Jo. I’m cornered. By Bambi.

‘Um, I’m fine I think. But I’m ... er ... a bit worried about this.’ She lowered her chin towards the animal, which was now licking the dust off her boots. Its shaggy white tail swung from side to side like a very happy dog.

‘Izit?’ Lourens giggled. Jo wasn’t impressed.

‘Is it...,’ asked Jo, pronouncing each of the words slowly and loudly to make sure she was understood, ‘... dang-er-ous?’

‘Nee,’ Lourens giggled again. ‘The bokkje …, the bosbok...,’ he paused as he struggled to find the English word. ‘…the bushbuck. He is good.’ He stretched his arm towards a patch of red fur speckled with large white spots. The antelope’s ears rotated like radio antenna before Lourens even got near and the animal ducked under his approaching arm. It scooted off behind a nearby bush. A cloud of swirling dust floated between Jo and Lourens. So the bushbuck were tame. But not that tame.
Lourens jumped on the spot and clapped his hands.

‘Bokkje...? Bokkje...?’ he called towards the bush. Jo reached back into the car, clipped the rucksack shut and threw it over her shoulder. She pushed the door closed and turned back to face Lourens. He was shaking a branch from the bush and clucking at the hiding antelope.

‘Er, do you know where the Elephant Hall is?’ she asked.

‘The Elephant Museum? Ja, ja. It is over there,’ Lourens stepped away from the bush and pointed to a whitewashed thatch building just the other side of a small pond.

‘Thanks,’ said Jo, starting to walk in the direction of Lourens’ instruction.

‘Ach, but it is gesluit. Closed.’ Jo stopped and looked back over her shoulder. ‘Must I take you in? My Pa is busy working on it. I will make a plan to get the key.’ Lourens couldn’t stop smiling.

‘Oh, uh yeah, I guess. I mean if it’s no trouble. Is it worth seeing?’

Lourens giggled, ‘Ja, ja. The Magnificent Seven.’ He clenched his fists and swung them up from his mouth into the air. ‘Very good’.

‘So, yeah, then.Thank you.’

‘Buy-er dan-key.’ Lourens pushed his fringe up to reveal a pair of pale green eyes, with lashes almost as long as a giraffe’s.


‘Baie dankie. It is “thank you” in Afrikaans.’

‘Buy a donkey,’ Jo nodded with an uncertain smile.
The giggling again. ‘Plesir. I will see you at this time tomorrow, ja?’

‘Er, yeah, OK. I’ll see you there,’ Jo pointed over her shoulder at the Hall.

‘Nee, I will be with Pa. In the workshop. Next to… I don’t know the word in Engels . . . the place where they put petrol in the cars.’

‘The building by the petrol pumps?’ clarified Jo.

‘Ja, ja. The petrol pimps!’ Lourens giggled. So did Jo. Until she remembered that her friend’s comical accent was a zillion times better than her own nonexistent Afrikaans. ‘Tot siens’ He started to run off.

‘Buy a donkey,’ Jo shouted after Lourens. But he’d already dashed into the distance. She watched his lanky limbs lolloping along. They seemed at odds with the boyish face. But combining the two, she guessed he must be about her age. Certainly no boy older than fourteen would giggle that much.

Jo looked at her watch. She still had ages before Chris and Ky would be back. And no Elephant Hall or Museum or Magnificent Seven (whatever any of them were) to occupy her. She couldn’t sit in the car all afternoon. So she set off on an exploratory mission around camp, heading straight through a crescent of round tourist huts called rondavels. In the middle of a pristine lawn, kept green by two whirling sprinklers, she found a huge sprawling tree. The wide buttressed roots looked like hanging folds in a giant yellow-brown skirt. Jo couldn’t resist the idea of scrambling up them and soon pulled herself up to a comfortable branch where she could sit leaning back against the trunk. The raised vantage point was ideal for learning a bit more about Chris’ camera. Jo messed around with the settings, zooming in on the comings and goings of unsuspecting tourists.

Outside hut D18, a white-haired old man in shorts and long socks positioned a chair on the lawn, shooed away an approaching bushbuck and started reading his paper. A small yellow squirrel ducked into the shade under his chair. At hut D21 a sparkling white four by four pulled up and a young couple climbed out. They emptied a pile of wood into the metal stand on their porch, put a six pack of cans in the fridge and disappeared inside. At hut D26, the viewfinder framed two men in khaki staff uniforms standing just inside the door. Their arms were raised and it looked as if they were arguing. Jo was shocked to see the fat, bearded man grab the paler, thin guy by the collar and shove him back against the wall. She looked around to see if anyone else could see the action. The old man was facing the other way and there was no-one else in sight. Should she tell someone?

Jo felt a clunk on her head. She twisted her neck around and got an eyeful of dust. She blinked hard to clear her vision and rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. Half a dozen grey-green monkeys were sat in the branches above her, feeding on bark and dropping their waste down below. She raked a lump of flaking wood out of her hair and tried to snap a picture of the culprits. But the playful monkeys leapt from branch to branch far too fast for Jo to catch a still image. Their willowy feet grabbed at the branches as they landed. The long bendy toes looked just like fingers and thumbs and they were just as versatile. When a monkey’s hands were otherwise occupied, a black foot could helpfully grab hold of a piece of tasty bark, scratch an itchy coat or simply provide something satisfying to chew on. Jo was fascinated. But she was also worried about the two men and the fight.

Now the men were tussling over a parcel. The thin guy’s body was out of sight, but his hands were clasped tightly around the package. He tried to yank it from the fat man’s grip, almost toppling over in the process. The fat man forced the tug of war into the shadows inside the hut and Jo’s attention was diverted again, to two young monkeys chasing each other up and down a nearby branch. Their slender tails – longer even than their entire bodies – counterbalanced their weight as they ran. When they both found themselves uncomfortably high up, one used its tail to brace a head-first descent of the thick main trunk, the other to stabilize an ambitious plummet to the ground. The free-faller landed unharmed on the lawn and quickly scuttled up behind Jo to rejoin the gang. She reached out as it passed but was too slow to stroke the soft looking fur. She had to remind herself they were as wild as the giraffes she had seen earlier. But they looked so cuddly...

By the time Jo looked back, the action across the lawn had moved on. She zoomed in to catch the fat man walk out of the hut and pull the door shut. He sat down on the porch and combed his fingers through his unkempt hair, before chatting briefly on a walkie talkie. The paler guy was nowhere to be seen. Jo had no idea who had won the argument, or what it was all about. And she still wasn’t sure what she should do.

She looked around at the monkeys for inspiration. The older ones stayed out of the fray, wedging themselves in the spaces between branches to scratch and groom one another. Jo contorted her body to get a photo of a huddle of animals sitting almost directly above her. When she zoomed in, she spotted the cutest thing she had ever seen: a baby monkey clinging to its mother’s tummy. The toffee-coloured marble eyes, Mohican hair and cheeky grin were adorable. She wanted to take him or her home! Beside the mother and baby, one of the males suddenly spread its legs, giving Jo a flash of eye-catching blue. She breathed a sigh of relief that Uncle Chris wasn’t there.
The monkeys were still grabbing the odd snack in between their apeing around and, after another dusty hit across the back of her shoulders, Jo decided to move on. She climbed off her branch, slid down the giant tree root and started across the lawn, clipping the lens cap back on the camera as she walked and flicking through the images on the memory card. At the shot of the baby monkey she walked straight into something squidgy.

Jo bounced back to face the substantial stomach of a man in official uniform. It was the fat bearded one from the parcel fight. At close range he looked a little like her grandfather, albeit better fed and with a deep ruddy tan. The football-sized trophy nestling under his left arm identified him as the victor of the fight. Jo stepped sideways to try and get a better view as he held out the open palm of his other hand.

‘I’m r-r-eally sorry!’ she stuttered. From the new angle his sticky-out tummy made him look like Mr Greedy. He had deep brown hair slicked across his forehead, and a bushy grey beard tinged with odd streaks of red. His wide sideburns were framed by a pair of squarely protruding ears. Jo wondered why he hadn’t had an operation to pin them back like little Mikey Strang in Year 5.

‘Louis Olivier at your service,’ Mr Greedy clipped in an Afrikaans accent.

‘Er, pleased to meet you Mr Olivier.’ Jo stood up as straight as she could and shook his firm hand as confidently as possible. He had the air of someone quite important.

‘You like the camera, yes?’ asked Louis, pointing at the gadget around Jo’s neck. Jo’s heart stopped. Had he noticed her spying on him a minute ago? She tried her best to sound calm.

‘Oh, well, … er… yes, I suppose. My uncle lent it to me.’

‘Of course,’ nodded Louis with a smile. She thought again of her gentle grandfather. What was such a nice, cuddly and, well let’s face it, fat, man doing in a fist fight just now? She leant to one side to scratch an imaginary bite on her shin. But even from that angle, the brown paper package tied up with string was blocked by Mr Greedy’s tummy. ‘It is a very nice camera, Miss Baker. Very nice’.

Jo wondered how he knew her name. She wasn’t at all sure she should trust him.

‘Er, yeah. It is. Thanks’

Louis beamed and reached out to shake her hand again.
‘Enjoy your stay Miss Baker. Moi blay.’ Before Jo could say anything else, Louis strode off towards a gate in the Camp fence, with a speed and agility that shocked her for such a portly old gentleman.

Jo skipped over towards hut D26 and bent down, pretending to tie her bootlace. She tilted her ear towards the door and listened. Nothing. She glanced carefully out of the corner of her eye. The only thing on the patio was a battered tin can splattered with yellow paint. She stood up and turned back to watch Louis. He greeted a group of staff sitting by the gate as he passed. In return they each looked up and waved back with a smile. How could someone so rough be so popular?

Jo checked her watch. Half past four. They’d be back soon. She walked down to the path following the Letaba river and gate-crashed a gathering of brown turkey-like birds, each covered by hundreds of stylish white polka dots. Their loud squawking, flapping and jumping shattered the peace of the quiet bush before they ran off, squeezing under the Camp fence to freedom and leaving a pile of dotty feathers on the path. Jo picked one up. The smooth barbs felt as soft and silky as her mother’s hair.

The river was an unimpressive dribble. And there was nothing to see in the wide dry riverbed. Just, at the closest bend, a pair of long-legged black and white birds standing by a floating log. Both stared down into the water, their distinctive bills – striped with broad bands of yellow, black and red – hanging above the surface. Jo watched as their curled black necks plunged down and their beaks splashed quickly in and out of the water. Throwing them back in tandem, each bird sent a silvery fish snack sliding down its long gullet.

Jo scanned up and down the river again, wondering where all the other animals were, but she quickly remembered the sheer immensity of this wilderness. Maybe she would never see an elephant or a lion. A clap and a loud splash brought her attention back to the bend. The friendly neighbourhood log had disappeared. Odd. She wondered if the wading birds – now flying off into the distance – were somehow responsible. From below, their broad wings, lanky legs and long chunky beaks looked like pterodactyls. The log floated back up to the surface and drifted towards the far bank. When it hit the muddy edge, Jo shook her head and opened her mouth in surprise. Out of the water, the log’s short stubby legs transported a flat ridged body along the bank, and a long tail swung from side to side behind. What she’d taken for the bark of a tree was the gnarled skin of a crocodile. It settled on a sun-lit chunk of flat rock and opened its long jaws. Through the camera Jo could see two packed rows of sharp crooked teeth. She took a snap of the lounging snapper and headed back to the car, laughing at her own silliness. She had a lot to learn about this place. Things, she realised, weren’t always going to be what they seemed.

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Comments by other Members

Issy at 13:42 on 02 October 2008  Report this post
Hi , am about half way through but am having to dash out. Absolutely great so far, especially love the bushbuck - get a real sense of being in Africa (never been myself) from that one incident early in the chapter and it brings the tension up with Jo's reaction to it.

Love it. Hope to be back later if not may be Sunday before I can come back due to visitors.

MF at 17:22 on 06 October 2008  Report this post
This is good - the story seems to be hitting its stride here. I enjoyed the descriptions of the animals, especially the buck:

How does it look like I am, thought Jo. I’m cornered. By Bambi.


Buy-er dan-key.’ Lourens pushed his fringe up to reveal a pair of pale green eyes, with lashes almost as long as a giraffe’s.


‘Baie dankie. It is “thank you” in Afrikaans.’

‘Buy a donkey,’ Jo nodded with an uncertain smile.

I liked this, too. Elsewhere, there was a slight risk of being unnecessarily confusing by including Afrikaans words in both their written and phonetic form - it felt just a bit much, like too many stages of translation. I think that you could probably downplay the strangeness of the language by integrating it straight into the text - readers will understand that Jo is as much in the dark as they are!

The one thing that did occur to me, though, is this: how many 14 year-old Afrikaner boys nowadays - whose fathers work in the tourist industry, ie. they're not hillbillies or Free State hermits - would know so little English? Just a thought.

Otherwise, really nice stuff. It will be good to see Jo's character pushed outside of its comfort zone in coming chapters.

mafunyane at 16:06 on 07 October 2008  Report this post
Trilby, thanks for this. Yes, I've been struggling a bit with how to do the Afrikaans - ideally I'd like readers to know how it sounds (because, let's face it its quite a weird language to listen to if you're an English speaker) but also felt I should put in the real words occasionally. One answer, of course, would be not to ever use the real spellings and just do the phonetic stuff. One for a bit more thought methinks.

I get your point about most people speaking English these days but really want to keep the aspect of Lourens' stilted English if I can. Its particularly striking when Jo meets a Shangaan kid in a couple of chapters time - and she's surprised he can speak English really well (which I think is a common element of surprise for most white visitors - that often whites can't speak English when the Black population can). And to be honest, I don't think it's that out of character for Kruger - it is still a very Afrikaans place and also operates a bit in a world of its own.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and glad you liked it so far. I hope to get to your third chapter in the next day or two.


Issy at 18:08 on 07 October 2008  Report this post
Hi Anna,

I was thrilled with this chapter, and especially admired how you managed to slip in hints of conflict - and forthcoming friendship between the descriptive sections - which brought Africa alive for me. Absolutely right, the story is there just beneath the surface of the exotic setting - I loved it.

As for the Afrikaans, I, personally, was OK with it. The "Buy a donkey" is delightful and made me chuckle. I got a feeling for the gentle warmth of Jo's character there, a bit out of her depth, but handling it, and of course we are right there in her head with the bushbuck, monkeys, and crocodile, all absolutely spot reactions which I am sure readers will relate to.

No suggestions at all!

mafunyane at 19:58 on 08 October 2008  Report this post
Issy - thanks, such wonderful comments. Really encouraging!


Ellie C at 13:43 on 15 October 2008  Report this post
I enjoyed this. I wanted to concentrate on your use of description. I liked the way that you provided snippets of Louren's appearance as the chapter progressed.

Your scenes provided much visual movement. I could see her there with the animals and the dust, all around her.

I liked these bits in particular:

Jo bounced back to face the substantial stomach of a man in official uniform.

She raked a lump of flaking wood out of her hair

The antelope’s ears rotated like radio antenna

She watched his lanky limbs lolloping along. They seemed at odds with the boyish face. But combining the two, she guessed he must be about her age. Certainly no boy older than fourteen would giggle that much.


The preview would not work, hence my rather weird quotation boxes!

mafunyane at 14:07 on 08 November 2008  Report this post
Ellie - a delayed 'thank you' but thanks for the comments. Pleased that you like the descriptions - and it's always useful to have specific things that seem to work well. Cheers!

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