Resilience of the Burchell’s

As Ntatemogolo finished his sentence, he looked down to see that the herd had reached the edge of the dried Lake Makgadikgadi. With his hoof he scratched the sandy river bed and felt pride well up in his heart. It was always amazing to him that even with very little and with even less water, the herd had come as far as it had. It was not as if there were millions and millions of Zebra and on the grand scheme of things, they did not possess that much wealth. But somehow regardless of obstacles, the herd had put the good of the tribe above personal, selfish gain and worked toward uplifting the herd.

Zebra

“Ntatemogolo wait for me.” Boipuso, the youngest of the Burchell’s Zebra, says running after his grandfather. The Chief is leading the herd toward the Makgadikgadi Pans for their annual migration. It is early morning and the sky is majestic. The older Zebra looks back fondly at his only grandchild and pauses briefly, waiting for him to catch up. The foal runs excitedly towards Ntatemogolo and without waiting to catch his breath said, “Finish the story Ntatemogolo, please… please! “ The sun rose with purpose, beating down on the cracked barren land.  The herd walks on, facing the gruelling journey to the pans. The brilliant rays bake the horizon and coax the desert out of the earth. The heat has always been a hellish one. The rains promising fertility were meant to come soon but this expectation creates angst amongst the herd. Peace reigns among them majority of the time but of late there are a lot more dissenting views. As the Chief, Ntatemogolo is never threatened by this, he knows letting everyone express their views often strengthens the herd and allows him to lead with their approval. It is habitual for Ntatemogolo to allow all to be heard before ruling on any one issue. Ntatemogolo does not lead by himself; he consults extensively with the clan leaders in the herd who also consult even more extensively with their respective clans within the herd. He recalls what the young one was speaking of; the curious calf had begun asking questions about the herd and why things were a certain way and he had begun explaining to Boipuso the history of the herd. Ntatemogolo searches his mind trying to recall where he had left off but could not quite recall.

“Tell me Boipuso, where did I leave the story child of my child?” Ntatemogolo asked him. 

“Oh Ntatemogolo! Don’t you remember? The herd had just gotten away from the control of the Mighty Lions and was enjoying their freedom and independence. You said for the first time the herd was being led by one of its own.”

Ntatemogolo smiled inwardly remembering the times the herd had insisted on ruling themselves. There had been a pride of Lions that they had sought protection from because they were at risk of being attacked by vicious neighbouring predators in the South Lands. A lot of the older Zebra were against ceding their power and control over the herd to the Lions but eventually they saw it was the only to protect them. In time the herd had become stable enough to rule over themselves and they overcame a lot of strife to convince the Mighty Lions that they could stand on their own without fear of other predators. When the herd had gotten its independence, it had never felt so good to be a Zebra. Their stripes were those of freedom and the herd was invigorated by the prospect of building themselves into a herd known for peace and prosperity. Ntatemogolo had gotten lost in his thoughts and Boipuso looked up at him, impatiently waiting for his story to resume.

“We thought we were ready for our freedom and every member of the herd had craved it but without the MightyLions a lot of things happened. We had no way of educating our foals of the way of life because we had not yet established schools of our own. The area in which we had settled was dry and semi-arid with very little drinking water. Our herd, at that time, did not partake in the politics of the animal kingdom and so we were as low as we could possibly go.” Ntatemogolo lamented.

Boipuso’s eyes were wide open with shock as he said, “So what did you do, were you the chief yet?”

“No my child, I was much too young to be chief, but not too young to see what needed to be done. We needed resources to trade with other herds and get the things we needed to stand on our own. Amongst the animal kingdom we were rated one of the poorest herds in the world. It was a bad time but we were still reeling off of the high of self-governance. A lot of other herds had suffered a great deal to get their freedom from the predators that protected them so we remained grateful that we transitioned without bloodshed…”

As Ntatemogolo finished his sentence, he looked down to see that the herd had reached the edge of the dried Lake Makgadikgadi. With his hoof he scratched the sandy river bed and felt pride well up in his heart. It was always amazing to him that even with very little and with even less water, the herd had come as far as it had. It was not as if there were millions and millions of Zebra and on the grand scheme of things, they did not possess that much wealth. But somehow regardless of obstacles, the herd had put the good of the tribe above personal, selfish gain and worked toward uplifting the herd. With Boipuso walking steadily beside him, Ntatemogolo looked for a place where they would settle for the long, cold desert night. In the arduous sun, they had walked all day and the time for rest had come. Boipuso was frolicking around his mother a little too excitedly for a foal that was meant to be getting ready for bed.

“Boipuso,” Ntatemogolo called, “let your poor mother be. Come and rest beside me. I thought you would want to hear the rest of the story before you go to bed.”

Boipuso wasted no time coming to cuddle close to his grandfather. Behind him other foals settled down, eager to hear the story of their history too. The closeness of their body heat chased away the harsh chill of the desert night. This was the way of the herd, histories, customs, and traditions were passed down time and time again from the old to the young, experience opening the eyes of the ignorant. After they had all settled down, Ntatemogolo began again.

“Does anyone know what Lesedi La Rona is?”

“It’s the biggest shiny stone found where our herd lives.” One of the foals at the back answered.

Ntatemogolo smiled, “Yes, you are right young one. The shiny stones are very important to the herd, do you know why? When things got bad after getting our independence from the Mighty Lions, many members of the herd wondered how we were going to turn it all around. It was almost like a gift from the ancestors when the shiny stones were first found. After their discovery, the herd finally had something other animals had always desired. The herd took a wise approach to how they would trade the shiny stones and in the end it made us a more stable community. The shiny stones helped us find better places to graze and we were able to build our own schools to teach our young. We went from being the poorest herds to one of the fastest growing ones in trade. You’re too young to understand it completely but the shiny stones helped a great deal.”

Some of the foals had fallen asleep but Boipuso and a few others remained wide awake and eager to hear the rest of the story.

One of the foals made a sincere request, “Tell us what happened next.”

“The herd was truly thriving; we had finally found the one thing that would set us apart from the other herds. Then all of a sudden, animals started dying. First it was the eccentric ones then the males, then everyone. Death spread faster than a raging wild fire. There was a breakout of the worst case of foot and mouth disease. It came like a thief in the night, stealing lives of the innocent, young and old. Sometimes a mother did not know she had the disease and she would pass it onto her foal and they would both die. A lot of people died.” Ntatemogolo paused because it had been a testing time and reliving it in memory seemed to still haunt him. What he did not tell the foals was that it was worse than what he was making it. That strain of foot and mouth had put the herd at a standstill. Foals were either infected or left orphaned and too many lives were lost. No one had the remedies needed to stop the massacre of the pandemic and for a long time the tears of the herd were red with the blood of the dead.

“How did they get better Ntatemogolo?” Boipuso asked, pulling Ntatemogolo from his reverie.

“Well, eventually, somewhere far away, they found some roots and leaves to make it better. Any animal who had it did not suffer as much and the new remedy allowed them to live longer. The herd put all their heads together to try to find ways of avoiding catching the new strain of the foot and mouth disease. We still struggle with it today but we have come a long way.”

Ntatemogolo paused and then realised he had been speaking to himself. The foals lay fast asleep at his feet. They slept soundly without a care in the world. That was what Ntatemogolo loved the most about the times they were living in now. Although the herd still needed vast improvement, Ntatemogolo took solace in the fact that even with all the mistakes he may have made as Chief, he had, even in the smallest way, improved the lives of those who would come after him. It was not a sole effort either; it was because of all the clan leaders who had assisted him. Ntatemogolo slept peacefully that night in the comfort of his accomplishments as the chief of the Burchell’s Zebra.

When the sun rose the next day the herd resumed their trek across the Makgadikgadi and as he always did, Boipuso galloped through the herd until he was trotting alongside his grandfather. They travelled in silence for a while, each one enjoying the unspoken bond they shared. Eventually Boipuso’s curiosity got the better of him and the questions poured forth.

“So… why do we keep migrating? And why do we all go?” Boipuso asked with a hint of whining.

Ntatemogolo chuckled and said, “Well young one, we go seeking fertility in the lands. We go seeking prosperity. We cannot go having left one Zebra behind for that is not the way of the herd. The reason why we do anything is for the prosperity of the future of the herd. There are some elders that may eat more grass than they should but the herd usually has its own way of dealing with them. 

Boipuso thought about what Ntatemogolo had just said and asked “Will we ever stop migrating? Like if we got to the perfect place?” 

Boipuso’s question mad e Ntatemogolo pause in thought. He had asked himself many times if the journey of the herd would ever end. It seemed to him that although they all sought to find a utopian ideal in their society, their journey would never end. And so they walked on, Ntatemogolo leading the herd and Boipuso trotting along beside him, each a representation of different times in their herd. They walked on, experience alongside future potential and together they knew they could get their herd anywhere they wanted it to go.

Red Waterfalls

My dress was bunched around my waist and I lay exposed to this brawny man of West African descent. He had the typical features of a man from that area of Africa, strong
presence of nose, coffee skin tone and a head that was flat at the back. He was what we would call a ‘lekwerekwere’.

“I’m going to put…” he thrust his fingers roughly into me, “… four inside.”

I shut my eyes tightly, grimacing at his sudden invasion of my body. He didn’t bother to use
any form of lubrication nor did he have any gloves on.

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“Why don’t you girls wash down here?”

I cringed inside. I had “washed down there” that very morning, and it was only just before noon. He had a sour expression on his face and started mumbling in his mother tongue. I felt as if he was berating me for his own pleasure. I felt he tormented me because my desperation disabled my defenses. Irony was at play: he knelt before me but I was at his mercy. I had lain down on the bed with my bottom on the edge and my legs spread open. He had told me to hold my ankles as he slapped my inner thighs whilst commanding me to open my legs wider. 

My dress was bunched around my waist and I lay exposed to this brawny man of West African descent. He had the typical features of a man from that area of Africa, strong presence of nose, coffee skin tone and a head that was flat at the back. He was what we would call a ‘lekwerekwere’. 

“I’m going to put…” he thrust his fingers roughly into me, “… four inside.” 

I shut my eyes tightly, grimacing at his sudden invasion of my body. He didn’t bother to use any form of lubrication nor did he have any gloves on. One of his fingers hand a hang nail and it scratched my insides on the way in and on the way out. I drowned out his comments by reassuring myself that this would all be over soon. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried not feel him pressing the abortion pills against my cervix. When he finished, I quickly made myself decent, trying to recover what little dignity I had left. I had felt so exposed, so vulnerable. He handed me the rest of the pills and told me to put them under my tongue and not to swallow them. 

“In four to six hours the fetus will pass, make sure you have bucket. Toilet is not safe, it will block.” The man instructed. 

Timidly, naively, I asked, “Will it hurt?” 

“Pain? No pain. It’s like your menses. Buy pads, you will bleed a lot. “

I felt better. It was done. I wanted to get through this without having to think about what I was doing. I was operating on autopilot; whatever I had just done, could not be undone. He offered me a lift back to the bus rank. As much as I wanted to get away from him, I wasn’t familiar with Mafikeng. I got into his car and he drove me back to the bus rank. I still couldn’t believe I had crossed borders to terminate my pregnancy. But, I had to. I couldn’t keep it, I just couldn’t. He parked next to Shoprite and only then did I notice the gun in the center console. Panic acquainted itself with me and took a firm hold of my throat, my mouth went dry; I hadn’t noticed the gun before. I realized that the situation was more dangerous than I had first perceived. 

I hadn’t gotten the money easy. One thousand and five hundred Rand. I had borrowed various amounts from various people and I really had no idea how I was going to pay them all back. The person who had gotten me in this situation denied that he could have ever knocked me up. I don’t know why I was surprised at all because I always knew that Tshepo was a piece of shit. I couldn’t have the father of my baby be the president of the ‘scum of the earth club’ so my options were pretty clear even before the second line appeared on the pregnancy test. As I gave the man his money, he told me I would need pills to clean my womb and they would cost an extra five hundred Rand. 

“Five hundred Rand? But we agreed on the price yesterday? I don’t have any more money.” I said, dread rising in my chest. The gun was right there. I felt so foolish; I had thought this would be so easy. It was naive of me to think a man performing backstreet abortions would honor his word after our transaction was done. This man was clearly a criminal and I had found him on Facebook. It was stupid of me to think this would happen the way he had said it would. 

He clenched his jaw in annoyance, looked straight ahead and said, “Young girl, I’m not asking your money, I’m telling what needs to be done. I don’t want to fight, give me the money. I will give you the pills.” 

Casually, he dropped his arm and his hand rested right next to the center console, the same center console that housed a firearm, a firearm that could kill me. I didn’t know if that was done deliberately to scare me or if he was just resting his arm. Either way, the effect was the same. I sat there silently, paralyzed by fear and wondering how he expected me to answer. I had no more money aside from my transport money and I was not about to volunteer that to him. 

“I can be nice man; I can be very bad man. I’m choosing to be nice man. Ok? Just give me the phone.” 

I was a little lost at what he meant. What phone, where? Then it dawned on me that he meant my phone. In effect, it seemed, he was robbing me. Instinctively, I wrapped my fingers tighter around my cell phone. I felt so defeated. He was lying about the pills costing that much but at this point, why even fight him? You can’t dictate the terms of an illegal abortion. I debated screaming and running away but I didn’t know how fast his reflexes were. What if he shot me and left me in the street to die? I also had no idea how crooked this guy was. Even if I could get to the Police, who says they wouldn’t be in on it as well. It also was not lost on me that I could not go to the police because I was an accessory to a crime. Momentarily, I wondered how I had gotten myself here. I was a fish attempting to swim out of water, forcing my gills to imitate lungs. It’s no wonder I couldn’t breathe. 

I asked to at least keep my memory card and sim, he refused me both. I pleaded with him, gently coaxing. I turned and I begged him, silently, as tears fell from my eyes. I was trying my best not to cause a scene. I was afraid to upset this man. He turned to look at me, with obvious impatience; I gave in. I handed him my phone and he told me to wait in the car; he got out and ran across the road to a pharmacy. I barely breathed, let alone moved, in the time he was gone; it seemed like only a hours. He came back and threw a packet, with a dozen pink pills, on my lap. I guessed that that was my cue to leave. He gave no instructions on how they were to be taken but I was expecting too much, I didn’t even know what they were. Getting out of his vehicle was a liberation I was unprepared for. My legs were shaky and I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Nausea took over and I was sick on the side of the road, leaning against a traffic light. I didn’t care what people thought, I had survived the first part of this ordeal. He drove away the instant I closed the passenger side door, content with another easy target successfully robbed. I walked towards the bus rank without looking back. As I walked, every step was synchronized with rapid blinking and swallowing. It took the strength of the universe not to break down in the middle of the street. Fear turned into relief and then into panic. I concentrated so hard on not crying that I almost missed the turn into the bus rank. I got into the mini bus, paid my fare and tried to forget what had just happened. The rest of the trip went by in an uneventful blur. 

I had thought I would be home by four but instead I got there two hours later. The entire trip was punctuated by prayers to a higher power that I make it home before I started bleeding. I was fearful that I would just start hemorrhaging in public and my shame would be laid bare for all to see. A friend of mine once told me a story I deemed to be quite sad. There was a girl who had gone for an abortion somewhere far from her home. On her way back, she had started bleeding. Blood soaked right through her jeans and it became quite obvious what was happening. She was taunted mercilessly by the bus drivers and the public. Only one person showed her some empathy. A woman selling tomatoes gave her her sarong to wrap around herself and put the girl in a taxi she had paid for in full. Nobody wants to understand the plight of the girl who has to take this route. Judgment is instant, and there is no room for compassion. 

I got home in time for a meal that was meant to be prepared by me. I dreaded the idea of sitting with my family and making small talk around the table. I was afraid my sins of the day would start to show all too soon. I complained that I was feeling unwell. My mother eyed me suspiciously but let me go to bed; if I had any siblings, they would have eyed me suspiciously as well. It was 18:43 when I drifted off into the nothingness of sleep. The day had left me emotionally drained yet I conjured up a horrifying dream. Faceless men bombarded my room and pinned me to the bed, they demanded I confess what I had done. As I was confessing, I was suddenly dead center in a stadium and I stood naked with a fetus dangling between my legs, attached at the cord. Everyone chanted in unison “dead, dead, dead” as if I was unaware that my baby was dead. I looked down and it opened its eyes to look into mine. Its eyes were as red as sin and as black as evil.

I woke up in a cold sweat with a sharp pain in my lower abdomen. I looked at the time, it was 22:24. Even though I had just woken up form a nightmare, it was only now that the nightmare was beginning. The house was eerily quiet. The moonlight shone through gaps in the curtain, attempting to illuminate my misdeeds but they remained shrouded by the darkness of night. I rushed to get a bucket, a few refuse bags and rags of clothing that were used for cleaning. I crouched on the floor leaning on the edge of my bed, preparing myself for whatever was to happen next. The man assured me there would be no pain and so I anticipated none except  heavy menstrual cramps. And boy were they heavy. I took deep breaths and tried to remain calm. I stood up and took a few steps as the pain slashed its way through me. I stifled a shriek and knelt on the floor. Movement seemed to help so I knew to remain in motion; I swung my hips back and forth, silently screaming, quietly wailing. The clock said 22:38. 

The gravity of my situation hit me, the pain sobering my spirit. Everyone sees those ads for abortion clinics, posters on public toilets, promotional ads on Facebook. I have read the statistics, heard the stories yet I could have never foreseen that it would be me too. I rocked back and forth trying to alleviate the pain but nothing seemed to help. It was the middle of winter but I was covered in sweat. Was I about to die? My body seemed under duress and I could never describe the trepidation that had taken a hold of me. Time crept along slowly, allowing the pain to have its way with me. Nobody told me that a chemical abortion was giving birth, that those little pills they shove inside you are simply inducing labor. 

Suddenly I felt a downward pressure and I knew it was time. I squatted over the bucket and instinctively pushed; my mind went blank and my body took over. There was an unexpected surge of blood. I then felt overly stretched, it was a peculiar sensation. All of a sudden I was relieved and I heard a soft thump. Then nothing. I stayed squatted over that bucket for what seemed like several eternities. I assumed the worst was over. As I tried to get up, I felt as if something was dangling between my legs. I looked. A perfectly formed, tiny little boy hung from a cord still attached to the depths of me. I shouldn’t have looked because that image haunts me in my dreams and even when I am awake. The image of the child I killed has never left me. I squatted over the bucket again and reached between my legs. Gently, I tugged at the cord; another surge. All the pain dissipated; a sickening sense of relief came over me. 

I stayed semi-squatted, semi-seated on that bucket, trying to compose myself. I felt a cool sticky substance at my heel and realised that the bucket was leaking. It was then that I almost fell apart. I told myself to keep it together just a little while longer. All that was left for me to do was to clean it all up. I put the refuse bag over the bucket and tipped the bucket upside down. This poured all contents into the bag. I stripped naked and threw my clothes in there as well. I didn’t need clothes stained with blood soaked memories. I quickly wiped all around the bucket and threw that rag in the refuse bag. I tied up that bag and put it in another refuse bag. I put all of that in the bucket and hid it in my closet for disposal the next day. I was a complete mess. I cleaned myself up as best I could and crawled back into bed; attempting to rest. The time was 23:11. Sleep eluded me but I surrendered my sight to the dark world that exists behind my eyelids. I kept thinking about how I had a dead child in my wardrobe. Would I be found out when I went to throw it away? Would it haunt me for the rest of my life? What if this rendered me infertile for all my days to come? Everything I had feared would go wrong did. My dream came back to me and I grasped how prophetic it was. 

What was done was done and I was fortunate enough to have lived through it. I don’t know how but I had managed to survive an ordeal interspersed with debilitating fear. Early in the morning, after my mother had left for work, I gathered all the garbage in the yard. I would need some rubbish to hide it under, to serve as camouflage, so it is harder to discover. The Skip where people dump their rubbish was a few minutes away from my house. I gathered all six of the refuse bags, three in each hand, a dead fetus in my left, and walked towards the Skip. I grabbed the bags two by two and made sure to throw them in the center of the Skip, among all the other refuse bags so that my sin was truly concealed. A sense of relief washed over me again. I turned my back on what I had thrown away and walked back home.