• The Art of Curiosity and the Treasure Hunt of Life

    The tyres of our game vehicle pass over collections of stories left behind by the wild creatures of the bush. The round shapes imprinted in the sand by elephants that have walked here before us describe the characters and their plot. They show us how big the herd was, when they passed through and which direction they moved in. The dung left behind and the trees trampled in the herd’s wake; these are all the signs of the wild, and, for the curious at heart, they tell tales that lead us to the reward at the end of this real-life treasure hunt. It’s a message for life: those who seek shall find, but also a lesson in curiosity – in the joy of inquisitiveness.

    “Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously,” said Hunter S Thompson. I could add that I have become immeasurably happier by being more curious. Growing up, my parents fanned the flame of my imagination. We’re not all that lucky.

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    In an interview I recently came across with an author who had just published his seventeenth book, the interviewer asked the writer where he got his curiosity from. The man put his gift of wonder down to an innate thirst for knowledge and a natural stubbornness and rebellion that thwarted his parents and teachers’ attempts to squash this thirst. Teachers shouted at him to stop putting up his hand in class. But he got the last word.

    While much of my personal curiosity in the world may be an innate quality, much of it no doubt comes from the adventures I had as a child, teen, young adult and… well, let’s pretend I’m still a young adult. It comes from my father pointing out every bird and tree on safari when I was an eager fledgling explorer and quizzing me on their Latin names, and from my mother reading me wild stories from books that further set my imagination on fire. It is born from a combination of being exposed to the wild world and shown how to look at it, encouraged to look at it.

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    On safari with my boys now (still a young adult), our game drives lead us on magical treasure hunts where our mutual curiosity is spurred on by the signs of the wild. Each pointer left behind by the wild things that have passed before us drives us forward, signals that we’re on the right track. The destination is the reward for our seeking – a Panthera pardus (leopard) sprawled over a tree branch so well moulded to his body that it looks as though it was made just for him, or a Coracias caudatus (lilac breasted roller) silhouetted against the setting sun on a perch of its own.

    If there’s one thing that I think will set my little ones in good stead as they go about life it is curiosity. To have a child so fascinated in the world that he or she burns to know more is all I can hope for. In the words of Walter Mitty in the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

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  • The Joys of Tiny Dancers. Or, Real Boys Dance.

    I’ve never understood why some people so sternly exclaim things like, “I don’t dance.”

    I remember a male friend, when I was around 16, exclaiming to our group, “I’m not touchy feel and I don’t dance. End of story.” He stated both attributes (or weaknesses; po-tay-to, po-taa-toe) so sternly that it seemed to come from a place of pride but also, I detected, fear – fear in being dragged out before a crowd and made to hop about. Fear of humiliation. My thinking is that we can only be humiliated if we allow ourselves to be humiliated. It’s not a definite.

    While there are girls and ladies, boys and gents, that go a deep shade of crimson at the suggestion of dancing, there does seem to be a larger amount of the latter that are prone to this aversion. I refuse to deny my sons the pure and absolute joy of waving your arms in the air like you just don’t care. I won’t let them miss out on the side effects of dancing: the freedom, that sense of you-only-live-once-ness, the creativity involved, and the general practice of not placing your worth in the hands of others.

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    “I like to move it, move it…”

    I encourage Carlos and Renzi to dance every chance they get. To move when the feeling takes them. To not be restricted by what people might think. It’s a work in progress. Bravery wasn’t built in a day, nor was Mick Jagger, but look at that man move! Perhaps it’s the Puerto Rican in them, perhaps it’s learned behaviour, but our years together thus far can be mapped out in dance sequences – from the back seat road trip shuffle to the more erratic, I’ve-had-too-much-sugar, let’s-make-this-fishing-rod-my-dance-partner jig, and the no holds barred picnic boogie when we channel Pharrell in both look, song and dance.

    I believe we should teach our boys and girls the art of dancing freely from young – not merely send them to extracurricular ballet or hip hop classes, but teach them to find the joy of dance in everyday moments, to let them create their own rhythm.

    For me dancing has always been a great love that has united many, whether in night clubs or grand balls, and filled me with deep, raw bliss even in quieter moments, with or without the boys and dogs. It’s a release, catharsis. And it also encourages a very necessary appreciation of music. Just as we have each and every style of dance happening in our home, proficiently carried out or not, and wherever that home may be – on the Zambezi or a safari camp in the wild, every genre of music has its time. All in the name of letting tiny dancers find their own way and decide on their own tunes, their own drumbeat.

     

  • The Ancient Art of Bedtime Stories

    There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. —Jacqueline Kennedy

    Most nights, I lay in bed with two little souls nearing sleep in the crook of each arm, reading one last bedtime story from a title off our bookshelf.

    Last night, we chose one of the Value series picture books, namely, The Value of Adventure: The Story of Sacagawea, which follows the tales of a young Shoshone girl. What struck me the most, lying there beneath the mosquito net, with the night sounds of the Zambezi flowing past our home on the river, was not only how perfectly suited the book is to my two travellers in training. Not only how appropriate it is in teaching the boys about other cultures – a concept that is key in the proverbial “Traveller in Training” mission book. But that this book, which enraptures the boys so, even as they give in to the pull of slumber, is mine. From my childhood, when my mother read to me as I read to my sons now.

    What amazes me is the perfect circle of it all, the circle of life in all its guises. My sons have the same wonder and excitement for the stories that I did, in spite of the generation gap and the time that has past.

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    Books and stories, the good ones, transcend generations. They are lines linking us to those that have come before us, that have read before us. They tie us to our grandmothers and grandfathers and their grandmothers and grandfathers. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, it is the book itself that makes it into our hands, as with Carlos and Renzi. But there is power even in the mere passing on and down of stories from those books or tales spun by one creative great-grand someone, in the tradition of oral storytelling. A tradition continued by the hunter-gatherer tribes of southern Africa, the Bushmen. Besides having the rocks of caves to hold their stories through the passage of time, through rock paintings, they spoke it. Over the crackling of fire, like all the best campfire stories.

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    These tales connect us, to our pasts and to the many people that have made us who we are today. To me, there is something so grounding about it, and thrilling and heart-warming at the same time, as one prone to sentimentality…

    Over the nights in our little tribe’s bedtime story bed-in, we have paged through so many of the stories of my childhood – my grandmother’s Beatrix Potter books – her tales of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck, for instance – as well as Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, Thumbelina and Other Stories, my mum’s old encyclopedias, Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. books – Mr Chatterbox was my favourite. We have lost hours together in the same adventures that I marvelled at as a youngin. Same story line, different generation, same wonder.

    In the words of one of the best, albeit newer, children’s book writers, JK Rowling, “I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp.”

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    The connection is real.