Is it for the birds?

29 11 2006

In the African summer, the best time of day is the golden hour after sunrise. It is often cool and calm and worth savouring if you can get up early enough. Actually it is not that early at all. Sunrise is 05h15 at the moment and we don’t have daylight saving (which my brother thinks is nonsense – “Just learn to get up earlier”). Anyway, yesterday I was sitting on the verandah enjoying my early morning cup of coffee and admiring the view and wondering why I want to leave Zimbabwe.

Everywhere there was avian activity, and if I couldn’t see it I could certainly hear it. A pin tailed whydah twittered and fluttered with ridiculous optimism in the corner of the garden, desperately trying to impress a future member of his harem. I could hear a crested barbet trilling away incessantly in the neighbour’s garden to my left. Every year they nest in an old gatepost on the fence surrounding a coffee trial plot. Last year there was a pathetic and sad corpse of a fledgling at the base of the post; it had tried to fly too early.

Bulbuls squabbled in a small tree and I could hear a flapper lark wacking his wings together to attract a mate. I have heard them do that for hours on end and it does not appear to damage the wings. It does not seem to work attracting mates either. Sporadic flurries of activity emanated from the mulberry tree in the corner of the garden, even though the fruit have long since gone. Cicadas were starting to whirr in the msasa trees beyond the fence. There has been a paradise flycatcher in the garden; a deep orange bird with a blue head and long tail. They build a nest that is about the size of an egg cup and is camouflaged with lichen. Mango trees are favoured.

A flock of quelias might pass through later. Pretty and small they are nevertheless voracious seed eaters and can ravish a wheat crop when they descend in their millions, but these ones are innocuous. They pick hopefully through the dregs of my lawn, infinitely tired by the dry winter. They have done it before. They will do it again.

In Africa (well, I speak for Zimbabwe) there are always birds to be seen or heard. Later in the day once the thermals kick off, the raptors and scavengers start to soar and one can always see something flying. On the road into Borrowdale there is a municipal rubbish tip that is frequented by the marabou storks. They are not pretty birds; scavengers by nature, they have a wingspan of nearly 3m and I occasionally see them perched incongruously on my neighbour’s centre pivot irrigation system, huddled like a line of depressed accountants. Oh, but you should see them in the air! They soar gloriously, inspired by the welling air currents, wheeling, curving with divine grace, primary feathers feeling for the subtle air currents.

I was in New Zealand in 2003, doing a compulsory visit to keep my residence visa alive. While in the South Island I did a 2 day canoe trip with Kevin, a computer programmer who’d passed through Zimbabwe a few years earlier on his way to NZ. I was struck by the silence on Lake Wanaka. No birds, just the splash of our paddles. It was rather sad.

So why do I want to leave Zimbabwe? Actually I don’t. I need to though. The spinal injury that I had all those years ago in my teens has decided to collect its dues and the old age that I knew was coming has arrived rather earlier than anticipated. I always knew there would be a payback but I never anticipated that it would be this soon. The health services in Zim are OK for someone in good health but not for the likes of me. Yes, for the moment I get by but that will not always be the case and then I must be somewhere where I will be looked after. I have no property to my name, no immediate family here, just my dog Jenni. Much though I love her she cannot support me in the years to come when I will need care of some sort. So I must go. Somehow leaving is proving difficult.

Acacia sunset November 28, 2006.


Acacia sunset



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