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Average Jo CHAPTER 5

by  mafunyane

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008
Word Count: 3555
Summary: This is a bridging chapter - between the end of day 2 in Camp (where Jo visits the Elephant Hall) and the next week. I want to get to a stage where Jo is a bit more settled in the bush. But this does mean quite a lot of TELL not SHOW at the start. Does it work?
Related Works: Average Jo Chapter 1 • Average Jo CHAPTER 2 • Average Jo Chapter 4 • Average Jo synopsis V2 • 



It had been a pretty cool week, though it felt like a month. Jo had been out with Ky and Chris every day. She saw more animals than she ever knew existed, and learnt so much about Kruger’s savannah landscape that Chris had started calling her ‘Jo of the Bushveld’ after some famous dog or something.

She’d seen plenty more supermodel giraffes, spotted slumbering hippos, and even eyed a white rhino (from a safe distance). She’d fallen in love with weary wildebeest and rock-hopping klipspringers and developed an unlikely soft spot for the ugly pink bottoms of Kruger’s boisterous baboons. She’d tried her best to follow Ky’s advice about loving spiders, but that was one species that still didn’t appeal. The stripey ones with flattened legs looked plain evil. And the really tiny beasties, living in their thousands in giant cocoon communities, gave her goosebumps. Luckily, she still hadn’t come face to face with a snake.

She learnt how to tell W-shaped white rhino footprints from rounded black rhino spoor, and could distinguish between the two by looking for woody lumps in their poo. She could identify birds from their beaks and feet, and ticked off more than fifty species in Chris’ field guide. She recognized the distinctive seagull-like call of the African fish eagle, the eerie wail of the spotted dikkop and the melodic scales of the Burchell’s coucal. She’d even picked up some local Shangaan phrases from the friendly staff in the small Camp shop and café.

Chris had showed her how to use the tracking gear to follow the special radio collars attached to some of the Park’s biggest tuskers. And she memorized the card index of all local ellies with heavy ivory, taking photos of any unidentified animals (they called them ‘UBTs’) to generate new records.

When Chris and Ky were granted permission to film the installation of the elephant Mandleve’s skeleton, Jo couldn’t wait to visit the Museum again. The fresh bones, with fat still seeping out, were impressive. But Jo spent most of that afternoon sitting cross-legged in front of Shawu’s curving ivory. The man laboriously sticking together hundreds of tiny bones just couldn’t compete with the image of a giant tusker striding through the bush. So far, their busy tracking outings had yet to find any animal as impressive as Shawu, or any of the Magnificent Seven. Jo pictured herself sitting in front of the real live Shawu. In her head, he shook his curved ivory at her, hung his trunk over a tusk and flapped his ears gently.

The week had been fun. But Jo couldn’t help thinking it would have been even more enjoyable if Kenny or Lourens had been there. Her new friends were due back from school at Skukuza this afternoon and Jo was determined to catch up with them as soon as they arrived from their four hour drive.

‘Ok, ok,’ Chris gave in to Jo’s pestering. ‘They can come along this afternoon. You can show off your new tracking skills if you like?’

Lourens leapt at the tusker-watching opportunity. He swapped his school shirt for a baggy Billabong T-shirt, grabbed his digicam bag, slammed the door behind him and bounded onto the back seat of the car. Kenny had to help his mum and dad for the afternoon. But he gave Jo a broad smile and confirmed their weekend football and fishing dates. He even suggested they catch up later.

‘We can braai at mine, eh?’ volunteered Lourens.

‘See you then,’ said Jo, pleased that Kenny wasn’t busy all day.

The drive started off slow: just a couple of dozen impala, a proud-looking waterbuck and a handful of lilac-breasted rollers surveying the world from their solitary perches.

‘Ah, a zebra crossing!’ Chris gave a hearty laugh as a small group of zebra made their way across the road ahead of them. Lourens giggled.

‘Don’t encourage him,’ said Jo, catching her aunt’s eye as they both rolled their gaze upwards.

The zebras paced across the road in single file, freezing mid-way to face the approaching observers. Jo loved the intricate diamond-outlines on their faces. Combined with their sharp pointy ears and long black muzzles, their heads looked far more exotic than their pot-bellied stripey-donkey bodies. But their dazzling stripes looked like an open invitation to hungry predators.

Uncle Chris stopped the car about two metres away and the first three animals strode off the road to graze in the shade of a tall tree. The last zebra hesitated for a moment, spun about heel and disappeared behind a bush. Seconds later it returned with a young foal. The long-legs of the russet-striped baby gamboled across the road and the group reunited in their shady retreat, with two zebras standing head to tail as lookouts.

Jo smiled at the sight of the nearest sentry’s bottom. She found the thick charcoal stripes interspersed by streaks of pastel grey surprisingly pretty. The zebra swung its dotted tail, with a long clump of black hair at the end, back and forth, swatting off the flies and ticks. Ever since Auntie Ky had said that every zebra bum had an individual pattern – just like fingerprints – Jo couldn’t help chuckling at the thought of a gang of policemen manhandling one of these animals onto an inkpad to document its identity.

Jo looked back over her shoulder as they drove on. Against the late afternoon shadows, the black and white coats looked less out of place and she started to see how their bizarre camouflage might confuse a potential hunter, breaking up the outline of each animal and mirroring the colours and contours of the landscape.

At the Makhadze windmill, Chris pulled over and the three passengers bundled into the back of the pick-up. Ky set up her camera and Jo readied the telemetry tracking equipment, unfolding the H-shaped aerial and plugging it into the radio receiver. She set the receiver to pick up the frequency of the collar transmitter from the young tusker, Tsotsi, and clambered on to the roof of the Land Cruiser cab. Uncle Chris launched his hand out of the driver’s window in a feigned effort to grab Jo’s ankle. She brushed him away and stood on tip-toe, twirling the antenna in small jerks while listening to the receiver. She made two whole rotations before she heard anything: a very faint beeping to the north. Jo slid down into the open trunk, knocked on the rear window, and gave Chris a strident arm signal to show the direction of their target.

They repeated the routine ten minutes later. The beeping was stronger this time, in the same direction. Ten minutes later again and she clambered onto the roof for a third time. Now the beeping was so strong it made no difference where the aerial pointed. The tusker must be very close. Unfortunately for the intrepid explorers, they were in the middle of a mopane thicket. For all they knew, Tsotsi could be a couple of metres away, but there was no way they could see him.

They sat patiently for an hour or so, re-checking the telemetry every few minutes. Tsotsi was always still ‘there’. They just couldn’t see where ‘there’ was. Ky stood patiently all that time; always ready to tilt or pan if the tusker appeared. Jo and Lourens munched through Lourens’ bag of koeksister pastries, the most sugary things Jo had ever tasted. When they’d finished – and Jo was sure her teeth were going to fall out – they resorted to competitive bird spotting. He found a gang of long-tailed mousebirds clambering around a bush behind them. She snapped some impressive action shots of two little bee-eaters fluttering around one another in mid-air, spreading their green tails wide like fans. He filmed a clutch of witchy ground hornbills striding through the grass, their deep booming calls adding to the menacing image. She spotted an ugly white-backed vulture atop a dead tree trunk. Its bald grey head and pimpled neck looked gross.

Chris moved the car to a couple of different positions. Still no luck. They decided to head back to camp. Ky packed her camera away, Jo switched off the radio receiver, and the three climbed back into the main car. As they drove off, Jo and Lourens were still bickering about who had seen more birds. Chris caught his niece’s eye in the rearview mirror, ‘Don’t tell me little JoJo is becoming a bit of a twitcher?’

‘A what?’ asked Jo.

‘A twitcher; birder; someone who likes bird-watching.’

‘Well some of them are quite cool. Like the pterodactyls – the ones in Camp last week were only this far,’ she held her hands about a metre apart, ‘from a giant crocodile.’

‘I can’t agree more, Jo. As Charles Darwin once said...’ Chris shifted his voice up an octave to make a pompously posh pronouncement, ‘I can’t believe everyman is not an ornithologist.’ Jo shook her head at the ridiculous statement.

Halfway down the slope before the Letaba river bridge, Chris slammed on the brakes, almost flattening a pair of brown speckled birds who seemed intent on diving under the wheels.

‘Suicidal francolins,’ muttered Chris. It sounded like the name of a band.

To the right, just strolling up out of the river was a striking lone bull. His thick tusks almost reached the ground and curved in slightly to frame his trunk. It was Jo’s first tusker. She grabbed the binoculars around Lourens’ neck and yanked them towards her. He had little choice but to come too, almost falling in her lap. She focused on the ears, the surest way to identify any elephant. The bottom half of the left ear was missing, ripped off in a horizontal line. It was Hlanganini, one of the biggest tuskers in the park. Jo was desperate for him to come closer.

‘Sugar,’ said Ky. Her filming gear was back in the boot. There was no way she’d have time to set it up. Chris turned back to Lourens and pointed towards his video camera.

‘May we?’

‘Oh. Ja, ja.’ Lourens ducked out from the binoculars strap and passed his video camera forward to Ky, pointing out the key controls.

‘They’ll love the whole handheld thing darling,’ said Chris. He reversed the car for a better view once the elephant reached the top of the ridge and switched off the engine. ‘Much more gritty.’

‘Well, it’s a decent piece of kit,’ replied Ky, slipping her hand through the leather handle and tilting the viewing screen towards her. ‘It must have cost you quite a bit, Lourens.’ Lourens shrugged, and leant forward to watch the tusker clamber over the top of the slope.
When he reached the ridge, Hlanganini looked straight at them. Jo saw two dark patches under his eyes. He looked as if he was crying. And he was dribbling wee as he walked. Boys.

‘Ach. He is in musth,’ shouted Lourens.

‘Shush,’ said Jo, pointing to Ky, who was already filming the approaching elephant.

‘It is not a good time. He will be very angry,’ whispered Lourens. ‘Musth olifants are dangerous.’

Hlanganini stopped about thirty metres from the car and tugged at some long spiky grass. He munched a few mouthfuls before throwing the last blades down on the ground and kicking the dust with his foot. He looked at the car again, twirled his trunk around in knots and rubbed his weeping face. He kicked up some more dust, spread his ears wide, and held his trunk up in a high S shape. Jo winced at the ear-splitting trumpet noise and looked at Lourens with raised brows and a curled lip. Lourens held his hands up like elephant ears and whispered with a giggle, ‘Just mocking.’ Jo remembered that boy elephants liked to show off, trying to demonstrate superiority with big ears and loud noises. Not that much different from real boys. It was when they held their ears in tight that you really had to worry. Then they could run faster.

The bull stopped its flamboyant display and focused on chewing another clump of dry-looking grass. A snow white egret swooped in to pick up the seeds scattering by Hlanganini’s feet. It didn’t hang around. One shake of the huge head, with tusks scything through the air, and the bird flapped its angelic wings and launched back into the air. A moment later, Hlanganini held his trunk up in different directions, echoing Jo’s earlier tracking movements, before fixating back on the car. He shook his head wildly from side to side, pulled in his trunk and pressed his ears flat against his head. Chris spotted the danger immediately and turned the key in the ignition. The vehicle jolted in a stall. In his rush to get away he hadn’t put the car into neutral. The five tonne mass of grey wrinkles came straight for them, leaving a trail of stinky green urine in its wake.

Jo froze as she watched the dust-framed animal get larger and larger. Lourens shouted excitedly in Afrikaans and clicked open his passenger door. Did the mad boy really think he could make a run for it? He pulled the door shut. Phew, thought Jo. And then pushed it open again! He pointed to Jo to do the same,

‘Oopte! Sluit! Oopte! Sluit!’
It was crazy. But Chris was still fumbling with the ignition. And Hlanganini raced towards them, covering a couple of metres each second. Jo didn’t know what to do. Lourens was still shouting at her and, like an automaton, she unthinkingly followed his instructions. The two children were soon in synch, leaning out each side of the car and flapping their doors open and shut.

‘Oopte! Sluit! Ja ja! Oopte! Sluit!’

She was so focused on the task in hand she couldn’t see the elephant. Was he about to hit? The repulsive smell meant he had to be close. Jo gulped hard to stop herself from being sick.

When Chris finally started the engine and put the car into gear, Jo held her breath and looked up. The angry bull had already stopped, and was wandering off to the east, still dribbling behind him. Lourens’ madcap plan had converted the Land Cruiser into a threatening animal whose huge flapping ears outdid Hlanganini’s stunted ones. Jo didn’t think it was quite the textbook way of dealing with a charging elephant. But the unconventional manoeuvre might just have saved their lives.

The closing doors collected two suffocating clouds of red dust as they sped off. Auntie Ky turned around and sighed, ‘that was close,’ with a throaty cough. She’d been so busy filming she hadn’t noticed the two children’s own threat display. ‘It was great to get some musth shots. But he was a bit temperamental wasn’t he?’

‘Shame they won’t be showing it in smellivision,’ said Chris. He looked over his shoulder and winked at Lourens, ‘good thinking, Batman! But you know there’s only one sure way to stop an elephant charging?’

‘How?’ asked Jo.

‘Take away his credit card.’ Lourens bounced on his seat and giggled, while Jo rolled her eyes in disgust.


Lourens lived in a half-caravan half-brick structure, with his ‘Pa' and the father and son team worked hard to keep their home spick and span. After the messy workshop, Jo was surprised not to find a single book, plate or T-shirt out of place.

Kenny was there already, flicking stones across the front stoop with a home-made catapult. The three of them immediately got to work building a fire. Jo collected a bunch of dry grass and twigs, piling them up with scrunched up pieces of one of Lourens’s old comics. Kenny balanced four chunky logs in an over-arching tee-pee. Lourens added more grass to the bottom of the pile and pulled a shiny chrome zippo lighter from his pocket. He flipped it open and sparked the flame in one smooth movement.

‘Smart,’ said Jo.

‘Ja. It was my Ma’s, she gave it to me before she died.’

Lourens' eyes started to well up and he quickly turned back to the fire. The grass flickered away like a pile of sparklers. It took a while for the twigs and wood to catch – and Lourens almost ran out of breath as he puffed at the nascent flames – but ten minutes later Jo stood back, proudly feeling the warmth from the bright orange flames she had helped create.

Once the wood had caught, Kenny asked if he could use the kitchen. Lourens seemed quite happy just to eat meat, meat and more meat. But Kenny had come armed with his own supply of mealie meal grain to accompany his wors.

‘Pa is not here so ja, it is OK. I know you cannot have a meal without pap,’ giggled Lourens, following Kenny and Jo into the kitchen to grab a box of rusks. Jo shook her head when he offered them to her.

‘Aren’t they for babies?’

Lourens giggled again and went outside to check on the fire. Inside, Kenny brought a large pan of water to the boil and stirred a handful of what looked like flour into a bowl of cold water. He added the porridge-like mixture to the pan, poured in a little more grain and stirred with a wooden spoon. A few minutes later, the pot was filled with a stodgy white goo. When Kenny stretched over to the kettle to get some more water, Jo grabbed the spoon to try and stir the mixture. She couldn’t move it. And Kenny had just mulched this to a pulp. She felt embarrassingly weedy. Kenny added the water and stirred again. Jo watched his muscled arm ripple with the effort.
The pap and wors were ready at almost the same time and Jo tucked into both. The white stodge didn’t taste of much but she didn’t want to hurt Kenny’s feelings so she accepted a large spoonful (along with a large dose of giggles from Lourens). It was so heavy she could only eat a fraction of it. But the tasty spiced sausage was soon finished off.

Just as Lourens chewed on his last piece of wors, Mr de Klerk’s bakkie pulled up beside the stoop. Lourens’ father rushed inside without a word, even when his son called after him. He emerged ten minutes later, freshly showered and carrying a pile of wet clothes. He greeted Jo in Afrikaans, ruffled his son’s floppy fringe and nodded silently at Kenny. Kenny didn’t respond. He just stared at the floor until Mr de Klerk had gone. Lourens’ father pegged the dripping clothes on the line just behind the stoop and returned inside.

‘Your Pa should know not to leave clothes out in the dark,’ said Kenny, ‘the hyena will get them’. He pointed at his trousered knee, where Jo could see a small rip within a faint ring of toothmarks. ‘It pulled my T-shirt right off the line last week. I never found it.’

‘Your T-shirt must have made a lekker meal!’ said Lourens, whooping into the night like a hyena. All three of them collapsed into giggles. In the distance, they heard a faint whooping reply. The hyena was listening.

When Lourens carried the dirty plates inside, Jo moved her seat closer to Kenny.

‘Why do you let him do that?’

‘Do what?’ asked Kenny.

‘Mr de Klerk, he ignored you. Why do you let him treat you like you’re different? Like you’re not as good as me or Lourens.’

‘That’s how some people think,’ said Kenny. ‘He was born in a different time. I can’t change that.’

The lull in conversation was filled by the night-time sounds of the bush. Chirrupping cicadas, riveting frogs, wooing owls and more murmurings that Jo couldn’t identify.

Lourens came out from the house carrying a tray and three glasses of bright green fizzy liquid, ‘Cream soda!’ He passed the drinks out and then grabbed Jo’s camera, ‘Maybe I will ask Pa to get me one like this.’ He opened the case, switched it on and focused in on Jo and Kenny. ‘Smile.’ Jo was sure the flash had forced her eyes shut. But she was pleased Kenny had leant towards her for the shot.

‘So you will be at the Museum opening tomorrow, eh?’ asked Lourens.

‘Yes,’ said Jo. ‘I’m supposed to be official photographer.’ She laughed at the grandness of her role.

‘Very impressive,’ said Kenny. ‘I’m sure you’ll do a great job.’

‘Ach, I wish I could go,’ said Lourens, shaking his head, ‘I have to help Pa. We will be busy with the water pipes at Mazhadzi.’

'I can’t wait,’ said Jo. She wasn’t sure what she was most excited about: the opening of the Elephant Museum, the football match afterwards or simply spending more time with Kenny. But she was also a little nervous. A panel in the Museum had described elephants investigating the bones of other elephants; they pick them up, turn them over, cover them with leaves, carry them around, even pile them up in shrines. Jo couldn’t help wondering, if the bones of an elephant were on display in a Museum, what would the other ellies do then?