Journal Entries

To Study or Not to Study

Folks, I need advice. I don’t know how many people still read here, but I’m hoping at least a coupla. I want to know what you think about me studying at university again. Right now, I do things I enjoy … I paint, I write, including the articles you see in The Post every week, I grow plants, I go on bird-watching and plant-discovering outings a few times each year. But I don’t get much money … I’m pretty much dirt-poor, having to seriously budget for vital things like food. So anyways. My psychologist thinks I should study again, maybe get myself a (more suitable) small job, like lecturing at a university a couple of times a week, or something else where I can share my knowledge and also earn some money. It would be nice, but I’m not sure I could do it! I still have massive post-traumatic stress about my previous attempts at studying … the first, when I studied full-time, ended in a serious suicide attempt, while the next, studying at the University of South Africa by mail, foundered on personality clashes with one of my lecturers as well as the unreliability of the mail system. And back then I had the support of my parents, which I don’t have any more.

If I study … I’ll have to really devote myself to it pretty much full-time. I may then have to give up things like my weekly Colours of Wildlife articles. I’ll have to put my painting on the backburner, perhaps. I’m not sure how I’d feel about that. One of my big problems is feeling worthless … that’s the reason why I’m trying to do so many different things, I’m hoping at least one of them will turn out to be worth something.

So: I have the stress and anxiety still haunting me from my previous study attempts; I still have a big problem dealing with pressure – such as writing assignments according to someone else’s standards. I feel that I’m hard enough on myself as it is. I’m not sure if I could do it.

And do I need it? My psychologist feels I need a qualification, a piece of paper to tell other people I know what I’m about. Do I really need it? Isn’t it enough that I know what I know, that I can do what I do, and can share it with people? Would an official qualification indeed make me more capable of doing what I do, which is what I want to do? I just want to do what I’m doing already … but better.

So: any advice?

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Latest reply: Jan 10, 2017

Birding Big Day 2016: The Red-Billed Rocket-Tails

Team ‘Red-Billed Rocket-Tails’ consisted of Mark, Julia and James Friskin, and myself! I met up with them at their home at 2:30 Saturday morning. We all had a look at each other so that we could tick off ‘red-billed rocket-tails’ off our list straight away! Just kidding. It was a drizzly morning, as other Polokwane residents might remember. It was rather rainy last year also … it seems to be a Birding Big Day tradition. At the end of the day we joked (though I was a bit slow on the uptake at that point) that we should have the bird day in early October to get a quick start to the rainy season!

We headed to the Polokwane Game Reserve first of all. On the way there we had the first charming encounter of the outing – no, not birds, but a couple of hedgehogs crossing the road! Once in the reserve, we caught some nightjars calling and were on the big rock for the dawn chorus, where we ticked off several species. The only owl we got there, was the Pearl-otted. It was a day for cuckoos, with Red-Chested, Black, Diederik and Jacobin cuckoos calling. We got several species of francolins and warblers. After the break of dawn we ventured on a drive through the reserve. A spec was ial encounter was a red-chested flufftail (heard only) at a small wetland. Mark was adamant that we should try to get at least 100 species before we leave for our other destinations – and we did! We were especially happy to get Wahlberg’s Eagle.

From the reserve we made a quick trip to the golf club, where we were charmed by several species of kingfisher – woodland, pied, pygmy and malachite. Another treat was thousands of tiny frogs hopping around! They must have recently metamorphosed. We also made a trip to a patch of veld close to the stadium, where we got, among other things, rock martins and redwinged starlings, and then took a detour to the Koraal retirement home. From there we visited the Flora Park Dam but were disappointed … not much going on, with some fishermen probably scaring the birds away. But there were more tiny frogs! I couldn’t stop to ID them, though.

From there we headed to BBB where we got wonderful waterfowl last year. This year the dams were not as full, but we got several species of wader: common, wood and marsh sandpiper, ruff and greenshank. We did get some ducks also: white-faced, yellow-billed, redbilled teal, southern pochard. We got several new species there, it was one of our most profitable stops. From there we headed to Vencor, the cattle-lot. James found the smell rather overpowering! There we found lots of storks: marabous, Abdim’s, and white. Mark saw some woolly-necked storks but I just couldn’t get a glimpse of them. We also got vultures: cape and white-backed. Unfortunately we missed the pelican!

From Vencor we turned back and had a quick trip to the Polokwane Bird Sanctuary. That wasn’t very pleasant smelling either, with lots of fresh sewage streaming from the works. We didn’t get much there, but did ID the African Sedge Warbler/Little Rush Warbler on call – always a stalwart. We did get a couple of other species also. Then we headed to the Haenertzburg-Magoebaskloof region. Along the road we got a couple of Greater Kestrel. We first made a stop at the cemetery and the patch of conserved grassland. We got, as we expected, the dusky flycatcher, grassbird, yellow bishop and Drakensberg prinia. We then intended to take the forest drive. The roads were very bad, though, and we didn’t actually make it into the indigenous forest. But along the road we saw a woolly-necked stork – this time I saw it clearly, in fact we all did! We also got cape canaries, lesser and greater double-collared sunbird, pied wagtail, sombre bulbul/greenbul, and, as expected, a long-crested eagle perched beside the road!

We made our last stop at the Magoebaskloof Dam, and from there headed back to Polokwane. The last species we recorded, was the Black Cuckooshrike – Mark and I saw a female.

When we decided to call it a day, our tally was 181 species! We had aimed for 170 – last year we got 152 – so we were very pleased. And still, there were several fairly common species which we missed! And because of the rain and the roads we didn’t get into the forests, where we might have glimpsed several more. So we are quite satisfied and also stoked for next year!

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Latest reply: Dec 1, 2016

Trump and Clinton Debate in Afrikaans Accents

Just a bit of fun:

Discuss this Journal entry [2]

Latest reply: Oct 31, 2016

A Trip to the Makapan's Caves, 18 September 2016

We were out to the Makapan's Caves near the town of Mokopane today. We were quite a diverse group, including folks (though now all living here) originally from India, Iran and The Netherlands, and also a few locals (me included)! Our guide was Peter Molomo, or 'Peter the Mouth'. He has a very animated style of telling a story, gesticulating, pausing dramatically, and repeating key phrases. He also has a very strong Black-South-African-English accent … I'm sure if there were Brits or Americans in the party, they'd have had some difficulty! I myself had a bit of trouble at times, such as having to figure that what sounded like 'cousin and baffazin' actually meant 'core zone and buffer zone'! We saw three caves, basically in chronological order of the history they contain. The first cave, the Limestone Works, contains fossils of animals and pre-humans dating back to about 3.2-3.6 million years ago; the next, the Cave of Hearths, has remains dating from a few hundred thousand years ago and contains the remains of fires, and stone tools, of humans from old Homo erectus through early Homo sapiens to fully modern human. The final cave, the Historical Cave, contains very recent history – the mid-Nineteenth Century – and that's what I'll tell you about in this article. I'll do another article soon about the limestone works and the fossils of the ancient (actually, geologically quite modern) mammals that roamed the South African landscape back then.

The caves and the town are both named for the same person, Chief Mugombane, of a tribe of the Kekana Ndebele people who lived here in the nineteenth century. The caves were the site of a siege. The Boers on their great Trek reached the region in the mid-nineteenth Century, trading ivory to regions further north, and wanted to acquire some land to secure the trading route. But they went about it with very scaly methods, trying to intimidate the locals. The locals in response fortified themselves and allied against the Boers. The Boers didn't back off but sporadically attacked them. So some of the Ndebele led a raid against the Boers; they killed about 25, including women and children, at the place later called Moorddrift (Murder Drift). They also did something treacherous to Boer leader Hermanus Potgieter. The story Peter told us, was that they invited him and his men to a party; they asked them to leave their weapons outside as a sign of trust. The Boers did so, came in, partied, got drunk on Marula Beer, and then the Ndebele attacked them!

When Peter told us what the Ndebele did to Potgieter – they skinned him alive – Ali from Iran quipped, 'well, at least they didn't kill him'! Of course, Potgieter did not survive the procedure (at least, not for very long), and the Ndebele proceeded to make 'muti' (magical medicine) from his remains, thinking that it will make them as strong and brave as he was.

The Boers didn't react well to the massacre at Moorddrift and the murder of Potgieter and his men. They sent a punitive expedition against the Ndebele, one of the leaders of which was Hermanus Potgieter's son, Piet Potgieter. They had a large contingent of local people who were their allies, and also two cannons! But Mugombane's people had expected retaliation, and were prepared. All of them had fled, with livestock and belongings, to a series of caves they knew well. There they built themselves 'apartments' from rocks and stones and settled in. The Boers arrived and found them ensconced; they could not enter the caves because the Ndebele had firearms they got from the murdered Boers and were shooting at them from inside the dark of the caves, from behind the barricade walls they'd erected. The Boers tried blowing the caves open with dynamite; this didn't work. Next they made fires and tried to 'smoke' the people out; this did not work either.

Piet Potgieter approached the cave entrance to see if he could see anything and was shot dead. His body fell at the entrance and the other Boers were too scared to retrieve it, even though they feared his corpse, too, would be desecrated and made into muti.

It was a deed of heroism that ended this fear. A young Boer boy, fluent in the Nguni language (a dialect of which the Ndebele spoke), smeared himself black with charcoal and was able to deceive the Ndebele in the cave well enough to allow him to reach the corpse; he grabbed it and fled, as the Ndebele, realising the ruse, fired at him. That young boy was Paul Kruger, who later became the president of the South African Republic (or the Transvaal), and the most honoured and fondly remembered of all Boer leaders.

The Boers besieged the Ndebele in the cave; time wore them out, as they suffered from hunger, dehydration and disease due to the unsanitary conditions. Some women and children snuck out to drink water at the river lower down in the valley, and some were even said to have died from drinking too much water too quickly! The surviving Boer leader, M. W. Pretorius, next blocked all the cave exits. Some men then tried to escape, but most were shot. After them came some women and children, whom the Boers captured. Another group of women and children surrendered.

But chief Mugombane himself managed to escape. There are two tales about how he did this. The first tale says that one of his men agreed to make a heroic sacrifice. He dressed up in the chief's clothes, and went to the cave entrance with one of the chief's wives and also his son. The Boers, thinking it was Mugombane, shot him and took the woman and child captive. While they were celebrating, the real Mugombane snuck out: his people chased a herd of cattle out, and he was tied below the belly of an ox.

But another story says that he snuck out using a tunnel, and once out, fled to the region of the present-day Zebediela.

After the siege had lasted almost a month, the Boers noted that there was very little fire coming from the caves any more; they went in and were able to retrieve weapons and possessions the Ndebele had taken from the murdered Boers. They called off the siege. Pretorius and his men found (so he said) 900 corpses outside the caves, and 3 000 inside. Personally I think misplaced a decimal point; having seen the caves I find it hard to believe that even 1000 people could fit inside ALONG WITH belongings, livestock and food enough to last them an entire month. But the death toll must indeed have been horrendous, even if just a few hundred. At the entrance of the cave, today, is a photo of a pile of human skulls as they were found in the cave.

Chief Mugombane, with the survivors of his tribe of Kekana Ndebele, settled elsewhere and the Boers settled in the region they had now cleared of opposition. The proclaimed a town and named it 'Pietpotgietersrus' (Piet Potgieter's Rest). Later the name was shortened to Potgietersrus. But after the ANC took over the government in 1994, it was decided to rename the town, to the chief who at least for a while held out against Potgieter and the other boers: Mugombane – or as he's called in Pedi, now the local language, Mokopane.

I'll send this in to The Post along with piccies!

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Latest reply: Sep 19, 2016

I have a Job!

Hi folks! I finally have a part-time job! I am doing deliveries for a friend who has a laundry business. We started today. She has contracts with several businesses, picking up their daily/weekly/whatever stuff, washing, drying and ironing them and delivering them when done. She's for the first week just taking me around, showing me the ropes, and introducing me to everybody. It is going to be for about two hours a day, six or seven days a week depending, so I'll still get time for art and writing!

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Latest reply: Sep 5, 2016

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