Saturday, February 19, 2011


Ahhh, yes...February in San Francisco.

The Bay Area is blessed with lovely weather, but in my humble opinion the month of Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day and Presidents Day and my birthday is often one of the finest of the year (October is up there, too). Maybe it's simply because the end of winter looms a bit closer on the calendar; maybe it's the wild, unpredictable, changeable climate. Sure it can rain, and yes it can be dreary and cold, but February can also dish up weeks of bright blue skies, temperatures in the upper 60's or even 70's, deliciously nonexistent wind and calm, starry, moon-lit nights. The storms, when they do roar in from the Pacific, seem different than those in December and January, more like the ones back east, with a taste of spring in their fury: towering, puffy white clouds, buckets of rain and then none, blustery blue breaks in-between, hail one minute and rainbows the next. Toward the end of the month the golden hills of the Golden State burst green again, the first tentative Footsteps of Spring emerge in the grassy hills of the Headlands, and the sun continues it's march higher and higher in the sky.

Six years ago I spent most of February preparing for a two-week trip to Africa. South Africa to be specific. A wine related junket to Cape Town and the adjacent grape-growing regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek to be exact.

Quite frankly, I was beyond excited; more like totally freaked out. C'mon, now...Africa! In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd get there. And the trip began on my birthday, to boot. Bright and early on February 25th we flew from San Francisco to Atlanta, checked into the hotel, met up with eleven other wine folk from around the US of A, then hit the town for a raucous evening of margaritas, Spanish wine and tapas at a restaurant/club in the Buckhead District. The next day we roused our weary, hung-over butts and hopped on a plane for 20 hours.

Yup, it takes a while to get there. Which is one of my reasons for sharing this post, one of the things I so learned from the trip. I came back lamenting the fact that we Americans are missing out (especially we on the West Coast). Everyone should go to Cape Town, to Africa. It feels like a pilgrimage, a return to the place humans first began (which is the cool, spiritual part), but it's so damn far away (which is the tedious, reality part). Europe has is easier; they can jet down from London or Paris or Frankfurt in 12 or so hours. But from the States the flight to Cape Town is gruesome, no doubt about it. And coming back is even longer.

Cape Town, with Table Mountain behind

I'm still not sure what I expected to find, but the modern and bustling city of Cape Town was a huge surprise. Restaurants, bars, shopping malls, hotels, buses, taxis, a financial district, ferry service, movie theaters, tree-lined neighborhoods, city parks, traffic jams, skyscrapers, banks...hell, even paved streets: it was all there! (Like I said, I had no idea.) The coast south of the city proper boasts oceanside settlements not unlike Santa Cruz, with open air cafes, art galleries and tacky souvenir shops; sandy beaches for relaxing, sunbathing, surfing or volleyball, and turquoise-blue, slightly chilly but swimmable water. To the north and east a smattering of quaint, historic wine towns dot the landscape, and amenities for local and international tourists abound.

I didn't expect this either.
A colony of penguins on Boulders Beach

The food scene was also somewhat of a revelation. Before takeoff I had, of course, spent some hours online, diligently scanning the various US Government websites for state advisories when visiting South Africa. I read the usual warnings about traveling with money and staying safe, about drinking tap water and exercising caution when eating fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood.

I followed none of the advice.

The first ten days of winery visits and tastings and seminars and luncheons and vineyard walks and dinners were, of course, extraordinary. Eye-opening: The people, the sights, the 400-year wine making history. And taxing: Up early, to bed late, with lots of travel, food and drink in between. I intended to be careful, watch what I ate, and I intended to be sensible, not drink to much. Alas, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. After our first full day in South Africa the group attended a little shindig in the town of Franschhoek hosted by Boekenhootskloof Winery (I know...the names!). The restaurant was small, hip and clean: my first shock of the evening (Wow, they even have cool restaurants, just like in America). The second shock was the tasting menu specially prepared for our table by the chef: it began with raw oysters on the half shell from Namibia. Yeah, Namibia.

I'm not a huge fan of raw oysters, even here in good old and supposedly FDA-regulated California. I eat them a couple times a year—and when I do, enjoy them—but they have to come from an established, familiar source. Needless to say the country of Namibia is not one.

In my head I anxiously debated back and forth what to do, all the while carrying on scintillating conversation with my hosts and table-mates until that first course was delivered. From the plate an icy arrangement of six innocuous-looking, freshly-shucked bivalves met my gaze, but in my mind's eye I saw only six possible trips to the closest emergency room. My fellow diners dove in. I paused. Then I slurped 'em up and washed 'em down with a white Boekenhootskloof semillon (delicious).

For the remainder of the trip I feasted on apples, peaches, nectarines, grapes, fresh salads, sashimi, ceviche, sausages and roasts of impala (an antelope), carpaccio of filet of beef, kudu jerky (another antelope), local goat and cow's milk cheese, ice cream. In an attempt to stay hydrated, gallons of water guzzled from bottles or straight from the tap followed all the food. As did my malaria pills.

Malaria is not really a threat in the city of Cape Town, but in the wilds of South Africa new cases and the ancient, devastating sickness still abound. Which brings me to this: I knew that if I was gonna fly all the way to Africa, to South Africa, then there was no way in hell I was gonna return to San Francisco without a safari under my belt. And to take a safari, you gotta get into the wild.

Two months in advance I emailed the sommeliers and wine buyers on the list of attendees, but no one save a gent named Neil Doerr, a retail wine buyer from Oakland, thought they wanted or could get the extended time off. I did the research, I priced the options (lots, and all expensive), I decided on the game reserve, and when the wine trip ended with a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg (from there back to Atlanta, etc.), we bid our goodbyes to the rest of the group and caught a different plane to the northeast corner of South Africa, to Mpumalanga Province, to the unknown.

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On the wall behind Teddy the barman, surrounded by an impressive collection of old trophy heads and black and white photographs from an earlier era, hangs a pair of chalk scoreboards printed with an extensive roster of animal names. There’s the coveted Big Five, of course: lion, leopard, elephant, white rhinoceros and Cape buffalo.  Hyena, warthog and wildebeest are listed with monitor lizard and marabou stork. A herd of graceful antelope is included, their names echoing the exotic rhythm of native speech: bushbok, duiker, impala, klipspringer, kudu, nyala, waterbok. Burchell’s zebra and giraffe and hippopotamus, banded mongoose and cheetah and Vervet monkey: each animal is ranked with a point value based on populations in the area and rarity of sighting. Five or ten points for the more common inhabitants of the area, fifty or seventy-five points for those creatures in the middle range, and into the low hundreds’ for the shyest, most secretive of species. At the end of the day, after the morning and evening game drives have concluded, after all the guests and rangers are safely relaxing and reliving their adventures in the bush, the individual scores for everything seen are entered into their respective boxes, then the numbers are totaled. The collective high score to beat from perhaps days or weeks ago is written on top until it is surpassed, and way down in the lower right-hand corner, with a maximum point value of 200, is a little box reserved for what is fondly known as The Kill.

On my second night in camp—after remaining empty for over four months, we learn—I watch as one of our young and able-bodied rangers walks behind the bar and fills in the space. 200 great big points. Compared to the previous evening the atmosphere in Teddy’s well-appointed lounge is electric, the sense of excitement and adventure palpable. The small, clubby space is crowded with people perched on leopard print bar stools and leather armchairs, sipping gin and bitter lemon or local ale. Everyone is happily sharing stories and comparing sightings, a handful of them still shocked by the evening’s unexpected turn of events. Outside the bar, in the pitch-black, star-studded night surrounding the lodge, a symphony of frogs and other nocturnal music vies with the noisy revelry inside…and there’s one less impala trying to survive until the morning.

Welcome to Mala Mala Game Reserve: Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.

Situation normal for the summer rainy season, sunrise on the deck overlooking the ochre-colored Sand River was already balmy. At a quarter to six we were clad in shorts and lightweight pants and t-shirts, with cameras, hats and sunscreen ready, downing a harried cup of coffee and a piece of fruit before setting out into the lowveld. By eight o’clock it was even warmer, sticky, windless except for that caused by the movement of the Land Rover as it snaked through the reserve in search of game. Then the sun climbed above the tallest of the acacia trees and the temperature soared near triple digits. By the time the various groups returned to camp for a hearty breakfast it was just plain hot. Africa hot.

Nine hours later, halfway through the evening drive and miles from the lodge, my four jeep mates and I, plus Jaime our ranger and Johan our local Shangaan tracker, piled out of the Land Rover. Jaime set up a small cloth-covered table, opened a bottle of Mulderbosch sauvignon blanc, and there we were, impossibly sipping wine and nibbling bite-sized sausages as the African sun dipped below the horizon and the oppressive heat finally eased. Johan had secretly pulled the warm pot of crispy meats from somewhere, from under the hood of the Land Rover, he said. He smiled though, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and I heard Jaime chuckling softly behind me so I guessed I was being duped. However he cooked them, wherever he warmed them up, they hit the spot, as did the wine. But let’s face it, at that point anything would have. I was as happy as a warthog in shit. We all were, so pleased by the extraordinary expanse of land, amazed by the ease with which we checked off animals in our official Mala Mala sighting booklet.

Enjoying our “sundowners” in the middle of a small clearing we stood for the first time outside the game lodge proper on terra firma. As we were quickly discovering, the terrain was an imposing, thorny, dangerous mix of tall grasses and scrub, low trees and sandy paths, all of it dotted with dark muddy wallows where rhino or buffalo possibly cooled off during the day. Johan stood quietly at the back of the Land Rover and kept his keen vision trained on the surrounding perimeter of trees; and Jamie reminded us to climb back on board should any big game unexpectedly show up. Shortly after the sunset, after some group photos and toasting and more snacks and lively banter, we were on the move again, on the prowl. From the back seat Johan held a large spotlight, scanning the bush for the glint of animal eyes, and we were peacefully cruising through the pleasant night to an unexpected encounter with death.

During the morning game drive one of our groups had spotted a pride of lions hunkering down for the long, hot afternoon. Another party of explorers found them in the same place as the sun sank, as they started to rouse for the evening. Slowly, patiently, they followed the lions from behind, delighted with the chance to observe their movement and behavior. Via radio the ranger notified his comrades in the bush, thus news of the find, and its location, was quietly relayed to the other vehicles: an opportunity for those nearby to hurry over and share in the choice discovery. Unbeknownst to any of us Jaime knew about the lion sighting, so after we sipped wine and chatted leisurely on the ground he packed us up in the Land Rover and quickly headed in the direction of the pride.

Unlike the previous night’s outing we were definitely making a beeline for...someplace? Secretly I wondered why we were travelling so swiftly. A bit disappointed, I thought perhaps we were heading back to the lodge early. Not yet, I silently wished. Please, not yet. Soon the headlights of two other Land Rovers peeked through the trees, and I assumed that maybe everyone was through for the night, sure that our nocturnal search for animals had come to an end. Jaime, however, knew that we had found the vehicles tracking the pride, and that between us the lions walked somewhere, unseen. Then suddenly, without any notice, the cats scared up a lone impala and immediately took off in pursuit. Still in contact with the other rangers Jaime heard what was happening on his headset; he knew that we were very close, so he shut off the motor to listen for the lions and any possible struggle. Well he must have heard one, because he quickly revved up the engine again and drove straight off-road, straight into the blackness, and straight toward the commotion.

Moments later we stared in horror as the other Land Rovers softly motored up and pointed their spotlights on a truly grizzly scene. The pride had quickly brought down the unfortunate impala, and there in the grass maybe fifteen feet away they naturally, eagerly, noisily, devoured it. Bones cracked, the adult lions growled at each other as strips of warm flesh were torn off, and youngsters muscled in for their share. It was fantastic. I had seen similar footage on TV, on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, but unlike that armchair travel the heavy, unmistakable scent of blood hung in the thick, humid air. Unlike the safety of my apartment back in San Francisco we watched the whole thing live, and from a convertible: no doors on the Land Rover, no roof, and no glass separating us from the top of the African food chain. Twenty minutes later the feast was over. One by one the lions licked their bloody chops and sluggishly, mysteriously, faded into the night.

Four vehicles had made it over in time to witness The Kill, and thanks to our crackpot ranger our bunch was the first on the scene. I found myself wondering if lions ever act like sharks during a feeding frenzy, if whipped into a flurry by the taste of fresh meat anything, and everything, nearby becomes fair game. With a few short leaps the lions could have easily attacked, but during the massacre Jaime never once reached for the rifle on the hood of the Land Rover. As Neil and I swore in disbelief from the back seat he calmly and scientifically explained the nightmarish spectacle, our own personal play-by-play narration. They’re nuts, I thought to myself; they’re really good at what they do, but these rangers are bloody nuts! Like predators themselves they work in unison, expertly honing in on animals, tracking them as if on the hunt, alerting each other of prize sightings. But unlike days past when human killers paid big bucks for the thrill of shooting big game the end result is observation, not slaughter.

Still amazed and, honestly, somewhat shaken by the gory rendezvous we left the scene of the crime and turned toward home, pausing briefly on the bridge leading us back to camp. In the middle of the span Jaime shut off the engine, the headlights, and we were plunged into darkness. High above the Sand River the Milky Way soared across the Southern Hemisphere sky. Unseen but definitely heard a multitude of crickets and frogs bombarded the ebon void surrounding us with their incessant chirping. Through the noise I thought I heard the tall grass by the river rustle ever so softly. My skin crawled, a shiver of adrenaline shot up my spine, and my scalp tingled in alarm. Somewhere out there more predators lurked. I looked up toward the beautiful swath of stars to divert from my mind the image of being eaten alive. If he made me get out now and walk the short path back to the lodge, I quietly voiced to Neil, I would keel over in terror before anything got me. In minutes I would die from fright alone.

Mala Mala is the largest privately owned game reserve in South Africa: almost 35,000 prime acres of land with thirteen miles of riverfront. The sanctuary is known as a champion for wildlife preservation and environmental research in the area, instrumental in the removal of barriers that once used to separate it, and other properties, from Kruger National Park, the 8000-square mile natural jewel east of the reserve. For my brief two-day stay I quickly learned why it’s also considered one of the finest safari destinations in the world. From beginning to end the combination of luxury, the attention to detail, and the game-viewing expertise was first rate. After an hour flight from Johannesburg our anxious band of travelers was met at a tiny airstrip in the middle of nowhere, efficiently whisked away to camp, and immediately waited on hand and foot. As guests we were pampered with spacious and beautifully appointed insect-proof lodging, served three delicious meals a day, and educated on the flora and fauna of the South African lowveld by obviously well-trained, dedicated professionals. Amenities included an outdoor swimming pool, filtered water in the taps and bottled water in the rooms, a library full of books and videos on animals and nature, The Buffalo Lounge, a gift shop, spa, and Teddy’s very popular and well-stocked bar.

On arrival my traveling companion Neil and I, along with Charlotte, Iris, and Stephanie, were assigned to Jaime Naylor, and for the duration of our safari he became our all in one go-to guy, our personal Man Friday. Part valet and part waiter, part ranger and part natural history professor, Jaime attended to our every need in camp: issuing wake up calls in the morning, taking orders and organizing drinks at mealtime, answering questions and facilitating any special requests. Twice a day, he and Johan lead us into the undulating tangle of trees, riverside thicket, and open savanna surrounding the lodge. Together they made a topnotch team, expertly sharing their intimate knowledge of the land and their love of wildlife big and small. The three-hour game drives were without question the highlight of the day, but an optional hike into the bush with two armed rangers offered a different perspective of the lowveld. The leisurely (and, at midday, scorching) stroll allowed for a more intimate inspection of plant and animal life, a chance to find dung beetles diligently re-sculpting fresh elephant patties, to sample indigenous fruit or leaves used in regional cuisine and medicine. Catering to a maximum of only thirty-six guests at a time the whole experience was extremely personal, impeccably orchestrated, and very tasteful: all due to an incredible staff and to Michael and Norma Rattray, the well-respected conservationists and owners of Mala Mala since 1965.

Forty-eight hours turned out to be plenty of time to track down Africa’s Big Five, plus have a host of other fascinating encounters. A languorous herd of giraffe at dusk, an eye-popping display of zebra and a handsome little leopard tortoise by the side of the road, a kaleidoscope of colorful bird life: surprise discoveries waited everywhere. For two days I remained astonished, thinking to myself how crazy it all was, how close our Land Rovers came to obviously wild animals, how close they came to us!

Overall it seemed most of them could have cared less. Sure, an enormous bull elephant became a bit perturbed when we rounded the bend and slowed down, but it was still very early in the morning and we probably just took him by surprise. Impressively the gigantic beast flared his ears and shook his head, trumpeted loudly in our direction, and then calmly resumed eating. And the rhinoceros’ on both occasions (once a pair of adults and a juvenile, once a lone male) were a tad under-whelmed by our presence, slowly ambling further into the bush as we followed. Hippos, quite frankly, didn’t want anything to do with us but stayed put in spite of the nuisance; they simply turned their generous rumps our way and tried to look invisible. But none of the big cats we met on the game drives (lion prides on two occasions and single leopards on all four) paid much, if any, attention to us. They went about their business as if we weren’t even there: expertly climbing trees or sniffing out the scent left by potential prey, potently marking their territory, scaring up birds hiding in the grass, and, of course, devouring impala. It was all very strange. The rangers explained that in the forty years since Mala Mala became a game reserve many of the animals have learned not to be bothered by the Land Rovers with the people inside. We were instructed early on, however, and instructed often, not to exit the vehicle or even stand up in it; apparently the animals then recognize the small lone figure of a human and it’s a very different story. Which meant walking down to the river from the lodge, hell, walking anywhere outside the immediate lodge area, was forbidden. Our room had a lovely verandah overlooking a small pond frequented by odd-looking birds and stately antelope, but the more I saw on the game drives the less I could enjoy sitting out there. As the sun went down, as the view into the bush dimmed and my imagination lit up, the idea of relaxing on the porch became utterly unthinkable.

Cocktail hour on the night of The Kill was winding down. I was still trying to figure out how we had happened upon the lions and the ensuing slaughter-fest when Jaime sidled up and announced that it was time for dinner. Like the other rangers with their guests he ushered us out the door toward Mala Mala’s traditional African boma: a spacious, circular pavilion enclosed with tall reeds on its sides and open on top to the stars. A bonfire quietly crackled away in the center and candle-lit tables arced around the perimeter, each chair draped with a warm, woolen blanket. Two towering, lanky chefs dressed in kitchen whites and toques manned a buffet table laden with herb-stuffed guinea fowl and roasted impala, sweet potato gratin, and generous platters of fresh salads and vegetables. A team of African women waited in the wings ready to serve bread and the first course, to clear plates and offer dessert. The ladies were handsomely attired in bright red, ankle-length dresses and matching caps, beautifully and simply appointed like everyone, and everything, in camp. The atmosphere inside exuded a rustic charm, peace and tranquility, comfort and hospitality.

At the entrance to the boma Jaime paused and casually stated that Mr. and Mrs. Rattray were in attendance for the night and had invited us to dine with them. Jeez, the hits just keep on coming, I thought. Still giddy over our crazy night in the bush my four safari buddies and I looked at each other, speechless, but then quickly accepted the surprise invitation. We stumbled to the table and were introduced to our renowned hosts, settled into our chairs, and promptly began another scrumptious, extremely memorable meal. Slipping easily into his waiter-sommelier role Jaime stood by and announced the night’s menu: a first course of corn chowder, served hot or chilled, the selections available on the buffet table, and dessert. He poured some of the remaining sauvignon blanc and opened a bottle of peppery Fairview shiraz (the first of two) for our entrées.

If we had been the least bit nervous to meet the proprietors of such an extraordinary place, and I know I was, Norma and Michael immediately put us all as ease. They were absolutely delightful.  Intently listening to our stories and regaling us with their own, asking questions and including each of us, they made it seem like we dined with family. Mrs. Rattray reminded me of my Aunt Peash back in Cleveland, Ohio, a combination of proper old-world charm and modern woman, but unlike my aunt I swore that if she had to Norma could probably wield a rifle like nobody’s business. As Jaime pulled the cork from another bottle of wine the conversation flowed effortlessly. We were having a blast. An hour later, after most of the other diners had wandered off to their bungalows, we remained at the table, sipping our second glass of an after-dinner liqueur made from the local marula fruit, laughing and carrying on like old friends.

On our first day in camp, when Neil and I met our jeep mates Charlotte, Iris and Stephanie, I jokingly warned them all that I would probably at some point during the safari have a happy little breakdown, start bubbling over with joy. A great big sap, I confessed, with a somewhat embarrassing tendency to become pleasantly overwhelmed by the grandeur and complexity, by the beauty and simplicity, of the natural world. The feeling strikes in places familiar or not, caused by the garish brushstrokes of sunset or the minutiae of color on an insect’s wings, by the mind-numbing enormity of the universe or a brief glimpse into the interconnectedness of life. The mystique of other lands and cultures, the intricate tapestry of the animal kingdom, the excitement and the unknown of travel, and the good fortune of being able to witness, first hand, the diverse landscape of the planet has a way of rattling me straight to the core. I feel truly blessed. Lucky. Although baffled at times by mankind’s role, and my own place, in the grand scheme of things I have no compelling need to completely understand it all. The chance to observe, the chance the experience the Earth’s varied tempo, is gift enough. As the hours at Mala Mala unfolded, as the splendor of the lowveld and the ecological significance of the reserve revealed itself, I could sense the emotion welling up inside: a familiar force in a foreign land on the far side of the world. Toward the end of dinner I just couldn’t take it anymore.

With Michael and Norma happily ensconced at our table, with our ace ranger Jaime sharing a glass of South African shiraz, with the contented whisper of the other guests enjoying dinner near the banks of the Sand River, and with darkness enveloping Mpumalanga Province, all felt right with the world. Come morning we would savor one final game drive, have one last opportunity to see how easily a female leopard’s spots weave into the grass, concealing her. One last chance to return the icy stare of a hippo or the graceful chocolate gaze of impala. One last chance to feel the undeniable presence of a thousand pound white rhinoceros, to round the corner and come face to face with the unknown that is Mala Mala. Happily I leaned over to Charlotte and asked, as we clinked glasses, what could be better that this? My answer came in the sound of singing.

The performance caught us all by surprise. We had not been treated to it the night before, but then we hadn’t seen an antelope ripped to shreds either. Toward the end of dinner the tranquil hush inside the boma sprang to life, and we all looked up from our plates, pausing mid-forkful. The women who had been serving us were gathered together in a single line: a dark-skinned, exotic and strikingly beautiful tableau in their bright red uniforms. With the two smiling chefs in the background they sang for us a cappella, rhythmically clapping and swaying back and forth, dancing in unison and slowly filing around the tables, chanting stories of Mala Mala and their ancient home. I was overcome. Their voices filled the warm night air and rose up like the flames of the fire, mingling with the treetops in a language I didn’t understand. Rich with a history I could never comprehend.Through the tears my vision blurred but the image - the sight and the sound of it, the supreme sense of adventure, and the utter magic of Mala Mala - was clearly etched in my mind, forever.

I was in Africa.

April 2005

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Right next to me is a sign warning people
that cobras hide in the bushes and rocks.
And to be wary of the baboons, who will steal anything.

Unbelievably, on the Cape!

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The manic-depressive, ADD month of February 2011 is certainly not disappointing. One of the weather gods is obviously sitting on the remote, and the channels are flipping wildly back and forth. A week ago I was riding my bike in shorts and a tee-shirt as the Bay Area soaked up the finest weather in the country; today, however, is the third in a row of dull gray skies, chilly temps and unrelenting rain. Snow levels overnight dropped to 2,000 feet, and this morning the summit of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County was dusted white. It's all okay as California needs the rain, the water, the snowpack, and I certainly realize that it's nothing compared to the crazy La Niña winter in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

I would return to Africa in a heartbeat, and someday I hope I get the chance. The unique ecosystem of the Okavango Delta in Botswana has captured my imagination, and I would love to witness it firsthand. In Tanzania, the classic safari destination of the Serengeti plain, the Maasai people and other-worldly Ngorongoro Crater. Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. Because the trip there is so dang long, however, I would stop in Paris or London first, re-coop for a day or two, then fly south. Or maybe not. Maybe I'd just grin and bear it. Ain't everyday you find yourself in Africa.

At the airport in Johannesburg, while I waited for my flight back to the States, I snooped about the shops in an attempt to spend the last few remaining South African rands in my pocket. Everywhere I looked I saw the curious word "Yebo!" printed on coffee mugs and tee shirts and hand towels and hats and refrigerator magnets and the like. When a lovely and smiling saleswoman approached, I asked her what the word meant. Yebo, she explained, is an expression of affirmation, of camaraderie, of in-cahoots-ness, of plain old happiness. It means "All right", or "You got it", or "I agree", or "That's great", or apparently a whole lot of other things. People use it all the time, she said, flashing her pearly whites. I told her they don't.

"No one?" she asked, dismayed after learning that I had been in South Africa for almost two weeks.

I left the store with my six refrigerator magnets, pleased with the last minute purchase. As I walked out the door toward the gate I heard her shout again, just for my sake: "Yebo!"

Peter Joseph Palmer