Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 66: A Midnight Meeting With Princess Mellivora

Rolling down hills tonight are we?” The voice said, as it unstuck its claws from the Pangolin’s scales. “Aren’t you afraid someone will see you? Won’t you be terribly embarrassed?”

Manny was indeed terribly embarrassed, but he couldn’t go red. He was a sort of light yellowy-beige colour. Sometimes he wished he was bright purple, but it would make for poor camouflage. Still, he felt bright purple suited him. He once found a bright purple plastic container that a fertogafer left behind. He cherished it, and when no one was looking he would sing songs to it.

Um… hi Princess Mellivora”, said the Pangolin. From the other creature’s deep, sniffly, irritating voice, and un-naturally long claws he already knew who he was speaking to, but he had to look up at the big, brutish Honey Badger to confirm it. No one knew why he was called ‘Princess Mellivora’, but knew that the badger had chosen his name for himself. The animals of the Kalahari doubted that Princess Mellivora knew what the word ‘Princess’ meant, but no one dared to bring up the subject.

Princess Mellivora was a honey badger, and true to his reputation, he rarely stopped for anything. If he couldn’t eat it, or collect it, it generally wasn’t worth his time and he’d abandon it for something else. He always travelled with his minions- a pair of Pale Chanting Goshwaks named Min and Ion. They pursued any prey that Princess Mellivora missed, so that nothing ever got away. Princess Mellivora approached everything and feared nothing. He probably knew the Kalahari with its many trails and its inhabitants better than anyone else. He certainly knew how to get the lost Pangolin home. He was incredibly smart.

He didn’t allow fertogafers to see this side of him, but not only was he was pretty handy with a swiss army knife, but he understood the inner workings of a laptop computer and could start his own fires when he was cold. Being nomadic, he had few possessions, but those he had, he carried with him in a small yellow backback with the words ‘Build-a-Bear’ on it. He had stolen it from a juvenile fertogafer. It was always strapped to the back of one of his minion goshawks, causing it to fly most awkwardly, not unlike a spooked Black Korhaan. Princess Mellivora was the only animal in the Kalahari who had his own iPod- obviously raided from a fortogafer tent. Tent zippers were no mystery either. And when no one was looking, he’d sometimes creep into the reception area at Nossob and mess with the bookings on the computer, just for the fun of it. Double booked chalets made his day, as did cancelling the shop’s weekly pie orders.

The Honey Badger knew Manny and his family quite well. In exchange for information about secret Cape Fox den locations, he left the small pangolin family alone and promised not to eat them.

The Honey Badger didn’t admit it, but pangolin really was the one thing he just couldn’t bear to eat. Something about a pangolin’s long tongue just didn’t sit well in the badger’s tummy, or in his mind. This was most confounding considering he loved to eat truck tires, braai tongs and toilet paper. And he had a fondness for sticking bird feathers onto porcupine quills and dipping them into the mud puddles on the road. He called it ‘Princess Melliovra’s specialty feather fondue’. He wasn’t creative and he had very poor taste.

Well, you’re a long way from home” noted the big, scary honey badger. “Yeah… lions… don’t ask” replied Manny.

The pangolin wasn’t particularly afraid of the honey badger, but he certainly felt uneasy in its presence. He couldn’t bear to think of Cape Foxes.

Um… would you be able to point me in the right direction?” Manny asked nervously.

Sure… but you’re going to have to do a little something in return”. Princess Mellivora signalled his minions. The goshawk with the little yellow backpack approached Manny, with a nasty but broken, and extremely tired glaze over its eyes. ‘Those poor birds aren’t even nocturnal…’ Manny thought to himself.

The goshawk shrugged off the little yellow backpack and dropped it in front of the Pangolin. “Open it” ordered Princess Mellivora.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 65: “Darn this highly evolved feeding apparatus”

“Um…so I think I’ll be going now”, announced the pangolin to his lion companions, as soon as it was sure that the sun was well and truly set. This can take a long time in the Kalahari, with the whole sky melting into an excruciating mixture of colours, before finally getting dark. Manny didn’t understand this at all and tonight it was particularly drawn out making it all the more inconvenient.

He slowly edged away from the cats, wondering whether he was supposed to thank them or not. He decided against it.

Snout to the ground, Manny began to walk in roughly the direction he had been rolled from.Every few steps, he’d slurp up an ant or two. He was over his earlier bout of motion sickness and was ready to eat again. In fact, he was hungrier than he’d ever been, and ants just weren’t hitting the spot. Then he saw it. It looked like an ant, but was considerably larger and looked rather crunchy. “Perfect!” he thought. Finding this Armoured Ground Cricket was a blessing. He wouldn’t need to eat again until Wednesday at the earliest. Why had no one else thought of this? Why was it always ‘termite… termite… ant… termite… termite… termite… ant…?’ The pangolin boldly walked up to its new prey item, apologized profusely to it, and opened its mouth to get a good grip. That’s when he learned why pangolins didn’t eat ground crickets. They just couldn’t. “Darn my highly evolved and specialized feeding apparatus” he murmured to himself and to the grateful armoured cricket.

The pangolin reached the edge of the riverbed. He looked down, but saw very little. He was blind enough without it being dark as well, but he could feel he was on the edge of a large slope. Then he got an idea.

He cautiously looked around him. As far as he could tell, no one was close. His excitement mounted. An ant crawled across his foot, but instead of eating it, Manny used his long claws to dig a shallow hole, into which he flicked the little ant. He quickly buried it in the hole. The pangolin didn’t want anyone to see what he was about to do. It would be terribly, terribly embarrassing.

Eying the bottom of the hill with glee, Manny tucked his feet and tail into his body and rolled himself into a little ball. There was a boring way to descend a sand dune, but there was also a fun way, and with a little push, the pangolin was soon rolling down the hill in a tight ball.

“Wheeee! Wheeeee! Wheeeee!” cried Manny as he rolled faster and faster. Now he really felt like a stocker ball. As he rolled, he thought he could hear some muffled giggling. It sounded familiar and it was getting louder. The pangolin has just enough time to think to itself, “Oh dear, this is not what I need tonight”…

This Week…

1. I decided I was finally going to back up my entire photo collection to Flickr, so they’ll be kept safe and cozy, long after all of my hard drives die. Only after I had paid money for a subscription, did I realize the upload speed was so slow that it would take my computer running 24/7 for 4 months to upload all of my photos. And now i’m committed to it. Commitment sucks! This is why i’ll never let myself get married. I blame Flickr. So my poor computer has been running for 4 days now, all day and all night. I feel horribly guilty. I keep wanting to offer it a refreshment or bake it some cookies to thank it for its tireless work.
2. On Monday, I planned on taking a long walk up to the hills and sit there (as I often do), and Dog tricked me into taking her with me, by spinning in circles at the door and being cute and wuffly. In a moment of weakness, I forgot that she doesn’t like me and so I brought her along. I spent two hours sitting on the most glorious mountainside with her staring up at me with absolute contempt in her eyes.

3. Too many people I love are suffering this week, through various unfolding situations. Some people I love suffer because of terrible things they can’t control. Some others suffer because their in situations where rational thinking has gone out the window. Having spent 25 years of my life thinking irrationally, it hurts my heart to see it in others. To be helpless is to suffer.
4. On the positive side, i’ve spent so much time this week reflecting on impermanence. Good things will never last, but neither will bad things. Everything passes, and that’s really quite awesome. I’m facing up to a really, really icky reality this week which is probably in my ‘top 10’ of ‘really unpleasant things that can happen to Mo‘. But honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Love and grow.
5. On my ‘fun run’ last night, the moon was bright and the water in the bay was completely calm. It was absolute bliss. I sat on a rock and let a little spider crawl over my hand. So much love.
6. Yesterday I shamelessly allowed the girl at the Clinique counter to spend an hour or so giving me a complete makeover. I like to think that they enjoy doing this, so if it made her happy, I feel less guilty. In the end, my face just looked fuzzy and orange. It’s lovely to know that I don’t need to spend £150 on makeup to feel beautiful. I’m lovely and beautiful just the way I am.
7. It was Cricket @ Skukuza this past weekend! This means it’s been a year since I was in Kruger. This confirms that i’m not imagining things- this has definitely been the shortest year of my life! Probably the very best, but definitely the shortest. I even squeezed into last year’s cricket shirt to mark the occasion.
8. The cricket shirt was definitely tight, because as of today, i’m on Day 11 of Pancake Week! This means i’ve had pancakes for two meals each day for the last 11 days. At first I was ashamed of this, but now I realize that it just another thing that makes me awesome.

9. I caused a little stir on Facebook this week, by posting photos of my beautiful pet python, who i’ve had for 11 years. I didn’t expect so much negativity! A few people I love and care about made some painfully disapproving comments, which were enough to make me remove the photos. But one friend I haven’t heard from in 10 years, sent me a long message which concluded with the idea that I needed to be ‘taken out and executed’ because I kept a pet python. I wanted very much to reply that in 11 years, my morals and views on animals rights have changed and that I will never, ever keep a large python again, but that since Kitten was my responsibility now, I am committed to him and will give him the best life he can possibly lead. But I didn’t want to do this, so I ‘un-friended’ her.

10. I don’t like that I have words like ‘un-friend’ in my vocabulary now. I would love to leave Facebook. I don’t like that i’m bound to it. In the past, it’s made me quite the stalker and it hasn’t been entirely healthy. I watch my mom waste countless hours each day with her ‘Facebook friends’. She hasn’t met a friend in person for years and years. It breaks my heart. I hope I can set an example by leaving and re-learning how to communicate using such things as letters and telephones. Honestly, what I really need is for all of my good friends to join the SANParks forum. Then I could leave Facebook behind for good! I can dream.

A Life in Pancakes: Pancakes in Africa

Pancakes in Africa were amazing. Like, really, really AMAZING. Africa is an absolute hotbed of pancake diversity. Anything and everything is considered suitable to roll into a pancake. Truly an eye-opening and life-changing experience..

1. I fist tried cinnamon sugar pancakes at a church function in 2008. I was very reluctant, but the smell itself convinced me that this was in fact, the way forward. It’s very simple to mix a little cinnamon into some sugar, so I can’t understand why the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to this yet.

2. My favourite place to eat cinnamon pancakes is in Pilanesburg National Park. The restaurant in the middle of the reserve allows to you eat two cinnamon pancakes with either cream or ice cream, surrounded by hornbills, monkeys, go-away birds, giraffes, warthogs, etc and all for just R12. And you get the wasps for free!

3. The above restaurant has the best pancake eating atmosphere imaginable, but terribly questionable service and quality. It takes a great deal wrong for me to send something back to the kitchen, but this place manages it regularly. Pancakes are often raw to the point of oozing batter or they don’t come with lemons. Explaining these things always involves taking a walk, because the table service is non-existent . But it’s still a winning situation. The longer you sit and wait, the longer you get to be there…

4. There’s a place at Hartebeespoort Dam called ‘Pick-a-Pancake’. It’s in the middle of a dusty, touristy market and they will put anything on a pancake. The place is love.

5. Pick-a-Pancake even makes a biltong pancake, which is only unfortunate insofar as I once had to watch a friend eat one. This pancake happens when one sprinkles raw, dried shavings of kudu and warthog onto a pancake. Not quite right, but if it brings someone joy…

6. On the flipside, the worst pancakes in Africa come from a chain of sickly ice cream shops called ‘Milky Lane’. Here, the pancakes are sugary and plasticy and the toppings are not right. On the plus side, Milky Lane for me holds lots of fantastic memories of small children doing very fun things with food- like wearing an ice cream cone, or mixing Smarties and chocolate ice cream and bits of waffle into a bright green glass of cream soda. LOVE.

7. My favourite pancake eating experience was probably Christmas 2008, when a friend had been sent some genuine American Blueberry Pancake mix from the USA. Our pancakes were topped with icing sugar. Happy happy happy…

8. I met and made a lifelong friend at Skukuza Camp in Kruger, when the two of us were trying to outbid each other on some maple syrup in a silent auction.

9. The best place I’ve ever cooked pancakes is definitely at a campsite at Addo Elephant Park.

Next up: Pancakes of Today…

Love, Lindt and Lanterns

I’ve just been moved to tears. Everyone loves getting letters and packages. I rarely get either. But tonight, I came home to both a letter and a package.

The letter turned out to be £3.00 in Boots vouchers, from some company who promised to send £3.00 in Boots vouchers if I filled in a two minute survey about my feelings towards apple juice. I just enjoy expressing my love for apple juice and I never expected they’d actually send vouchers. Score!

The package turned out to be one of the most beautiful things I have ever received. It was completely unexpected and was given with love. It isn’t Christmas. It isn’t my birthday. I didn’t rescue their dog from falling through ice.

Opening this box was an act of pure joy! One by one, so many lovely things came out of it. First was a bag of ‘chicken bones’ candy. Something I’ve never come across and can’t wait to try! It seems the cinnamon-covered chocolates are a delicacy in New Brunswick- the origin of this particular box. Also in the box was a beautiful postcard of ‘Plage Parlee Beach’ in New Brunswick. Even better was the writing on the back- kind words handwritten so far away in blue pen.

Then came the lantern. I could write an essay about how perfect and beautiful this lantern is. I could write for hours about the elephants and the stars and the gold Amarula logo embossed on it, but that would make me look silly. It would be like writing the memoirs of a pangolin.

What could possibly be better than the best lantern in the world? The best lantern in the world filled to the brim with Lindt chocolates- that’s what. It was also full of Turtles chocolates, which are vile and horrible and poisoned with nuts, but the beautiful givers of this box didn’t intend them for me. Those yucky little Turtles all the way from Canada are going to mean the world to my mother.

So I’m writing this by the warm, glowy light of my beloved lantern and I’m reminded again just how special the world is. It isn’t how yummy the candy is, how pretty the card is or how kudutastically kudutastic the best lantern in the entire world is- it’s the thought behind it all. It’s that somebody would think of me and specially choose these things and wrap them in silver paper and send them halfway around the world. It’s not a box of stuff, it’s a box of love, sent by people who know exactly what makes me smile.

The real kicker? I’ve never met the couple who sent it to me. I’ve never even heard their voices. It’s so hard to thank someone when only a hug can do it properly. These are ‘internet’ friends, brought into my life along with countless others by a mutual love of all things Africa. I’m so thankful to be alive at a time when close friendships can be born from a few typed words of kindness and encouragement on a computer screen. I could write fifty stories just like this one. I don’t know what else to say. I’m so touched. Love.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 64: The Most Awkward Silence

(This is Part 4/4. Really should be read after the other parts and not before…)

Do tell me you haven’t kicked that poor Pangolin all the way here?” quizzed Larry when he saw the girls approaching. Embarrassed, they stopped immediately.

Larry gazed at the ball like someone who had ordered a plate of pancakes, and had been given pancakes… bright blue pancakes. You know you could eat them, but you aren’t going to.

“So… can it be eaten?” Lois asked tentatively. “Would you eat bright blue pancakes?” Larry asked Lois. Lois didn’t understand the nature of the question and didn’t know what a pancake was. “Um… so… no, then? But you know what it is?” Lois asked.

It’s a Pangolin! Young one, by the looks of it. Very rare in these parts” said Larry. “How does it eat?” asked Lois, examining the ball for any holes. “It won’t need any skin cream, will it? Leona inquired hopefully.

“No no, it doesn’t always look like this. It’s wrapped itself into a ball. There’s a standard-issue mammal in there somewhere”. “Oooh” Lois was intrigued, “can you…open it?”

Why bother?” said Larry. “The little chap can stay like that for days. Waste of time if you ask me. Besides, there aren’t many of those around, it’s best if we leave it so it can have children one day”. Ew, children. I think not!”, Manny thought to himself from deep within the ball. For just a brief moment he considered uncurling himself and smacking the lion on the nose, but thought better of it.

Larry lowered his voice. “Fertogafers eat these, given the chance”. The three girls gasped in horror. From what the girls had seen, fertogafers only ate things that came wrapped in little plastic packages. Larry had their attention. “Oh yeah, they do all sorts of ridiculous things to them as well. Eat them, wear them, use them as medicine. Personally, I can’t see how this would work better than Med-Lemon.” This sent a wave of panic over the tightly rolled ball. Its mother hadn’t told it this, despite the fact it was an only child and its mother most definitely had the time. So this must be why ‘YOU MUSN’T BE SEEN!’

Feeling that it was in a safe space, the ball decided it was time to break its silence. “Excuse me, so does this mean you’re not going to eat me?” it asked the lion. Only it sounded much like, ‘Skeewwmeeee, Sofudis meee Voo-naa-gna-eeeee?’, as the ball’s words were impossibly muffled by its scales. “You can give up the ball act”, Larry assured. A tiny, pointed mouth emerged from the ball and spoke. “You really won’t eat me?” “Promise” said the lion, holding up a paw. He didn’t know why he did this, and lowered before anyone noticed. “Don’t flatter yourself, you don’t even look that tasty.”

Slowly the pangolin unravelled itself, revealing its funny form. Lois couldn’t help but giggle at the weird creature. Larry shot her a nasty look and she quickly composed herself. Lisa suddenly sprang to her feet. “The whale will FALL if I don’t collect 37 cucumbers by 4 o’clock!” and with that, she bolted across the dunes and out of sight. The other lions weren’t going to see her again until three days later, and when they did, she would be inexplicably covered in blue and red polka-dots.

You’re free to go”, Larry said to the little Pangolin. “You know your way home from here?” The Pangolin had a good look around, or at least it pretended to. In reality, it was quite blind and couldn’t see beyond the grains of sand by its feet. It looked the large lion square in the eye (or what it thought was the lion’s eye- it was however the lion’s third claw on its left foot), and spoke with confidence. “Yeah, sure”, it said, trying to sound relaxed and cool. The truth was, it could easily spend the next 5 years trying to find its burrow, but it wasn’t going to. It wanted its mummy.

Er… do you mind if I stay here until nightfall?… I musn’t been seen” it added quickly, remembering fertogafers aren’t nocturnal. The lions agreed. The pangolin looked at his new companions. They looked at him. What do you say to a Pangoin? Time passed. A lot of time passed. “I think its staring at our toes”, exclaimed Lois. More time passed. The lions were stumped and so began the longest and most awkward silence ever not heard in Kgalagadi . Even the barking geckos joined in. By doing nothing.

It was very awkward.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 63: Suffering Seasickness in the Riverbed

It might be best to read Chapter 61 and Chapter 62 before this. Or not.

We’ll have to roll it to Larry”, decided Lois. “Are you kidding? What if someone sees us with it?” Leona was very worried.

The ball’s name was Manny and it did not appreciate being called ‘it’.

The ball listened intently to the scheming girls as it was being rolled along the riverbed, dribbled between two of the lions (Leona, too embarrassed to be seen with her sisters, was following 30 paces behind). The ball knew it had made a terrible mistake.

Like the lions, the ball was well aware of fertogafers, but had never seen one for itself. In fact, its mother had drilled into it, the golden rule of their exclusive species: “YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!” This rule had been passed on for countless generations. It was uttered at every possible opportunity, even when it didn’t seen necessary- “Manny, can you please pass the termintes? And remember, YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!” “Yes, you may go outside and tease some Red Romans, but YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!”

There were, obviously, some exceptions to this rule. It’s permissible to be seen (especially by fertogefers) if their likely response will be, “Yip, that there’s an armadillo, ya see ‘em squashed all the time out on the I-95”. But it was a rule that if anything that sees you is going to enjoy seeing you, appreciate how special and unique you are and take a genuine interest in you, YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN! (Author’s note: Yes, I am bitter.)

To fight off the nausea induced by the relentless rolling, the ball pondered the series of events which had led it here. Rolling was not its preferred method of travel and it wasn’t accustomed to it. Tucked safely within, it possessed four legs, although it rarely used its front ones. Walking around on all fours was so terribly primitive.

It had arrived at that fateful bush by following an ant. At any point along the journey, it could have used it freakishly long tongue to reach out and gobble up the ant. In fact, the ant was expecting this. With each tiny step, the ant recalled the happiest memories in its short life, like the time it learned that millipedes made brilliant ‘bendy’ buses. But the ball had bigger plans for the ant. The ball hypothesized that if this ant was left to live, it would lead to more ants. To its dismay, the ant led it not to more ants, but to this particular bush by the roadside, where it was promptly eaten by an exceptionally fat Ground Agama. ‘Fantastic’ thought the ball to itself. AND YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!

So there it found itself, far from home in mid-afternoon under a bush with no travel snacks. Despite being quite blind, it knew there were lions about. The lionesses wouldn’t care to be reminded that they shamelessly neglected their hygiene in favour of their looks. The ball also felt the rumble of the approaching dust cloud long before the girls did. The rest is history.

By this time, the ball was sufficiently hot and dizzy and wanted very much to be tucked away in its burrow.

As they rolled the ball along, the girls continued to speculate. “I think it’s just a tortoise. Yes, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s a tortoise”, said Lois. From 30 paces behind, Leona shouted, “What about a mongoose? It may be a mongoose with a terrible skin condition. I have a lovely cream that should help…”. But then Leona remembered that she didn’t like the ball, whatever it was, and was certainly not going to share her cream with it. She hoped the other girls hadn’t heard her offer, so there wouldn’t be a need to formally retract it. “What will happen to the garden ornaments if the whales can’t read?” Lisa asked Lois, with grave concern in her voice.

Do tell me you haven’t kicked that poor Pangolin all the way here?” quizzed Larry when he saw the girls approaching. Embarrassed, they stopped in their tracks.