Hunger on the Delta
Reeds and more reeds
A canoe trip on the Okvango Delta. ‘Reeds, Reeds, and more reeds’, was our mantra as we glided on the water channels of the swamp over five days in the mokora, the traditional dug-out canoe, camping each evening and waking up before sunrise to an early morning walk where we spotted flocks of flamingoes, buffalo, doing it all while suffering from a searing hunger, because Fabio, insistent light packer that he is, in Maun had casually flung in tuna cans and pasta shells, one 150g tuna can a day, and three 500g packs of pasta into his backpack. By the second day our provisions were gone because I foolishly believed there was more. The only thing we had left was salt which our guide made use of, seasoning his freshly-caught fish each evening. We asked him if we could have some fish and he said no because it was all he had, and he needed the protein to canoe us along the delta. For, I am embarrassed to say now, we had booked a safari trip that included being canoed by a local who was very thin and had to lug the two of us plus rucksacks until we reached the day’s camping ground. Along the water, we would pass other canoes, and under my conical straw hat and looking up from The Master and Margherita I would feel a sense of discomfort (shame?) as I saw an overweight passenger(s) blissfully asleep. I had become that kind of tourist. We begged our guide to canoe us to a hotel. We had hope that he understood, because we trekked along the delta and stopped. We had reached it, he said. We looked around us. Nothing. And then we saw where he was pointing. Across the water. Far away, a building. Food. And it was out of reach. At least we had juice. For the remaining days we survived on boiled water with a sprinkling of pasta shells. When we finally arrived back in Maun, we went to the nearest restaurant and ordered just about everything on the menu. I have a picture of that trip, the canoe guide flinging his torn net into the water. What he must have thought of us, demanding his food, his meagre rations. If it gave him some satisfaction to see us suffer, to have some compensation for the demanding work he did, if he found that work demeaning, rowing us, our privileged selves.
Before the hunger set in there was the silence, the utter peace of it… an enduring silence which was immense and beautiful. On the canoe I read, and I could not have picked a more glorious book than The Master and Margherita for this trip which I would fish out from my army-style backpack and, leaning against it, read the dreamlike story from Russia. I have the very same battered copy on my bookshelf and looking at it always brings back that sometimes surreal trip on the delta when hunger put me in a semi delirious state by the final day, when the water and air shimmered and became one, and there was the devil, the talking black cat, the assassin, the beautiful naked witch, the writer in the asylum, Bulgakov’s magic-realism novel slipping in and out of my consciousness, as we glided on the water, reeds, reeds, and more reeds.