In this photo, Tshiamo Malete, a sixteen-year old boy in grade 11 at Lot Mashiane Secondary School, leads me and his pack of dogs into the veld for a late afternoon hunting trip.
“Too much animals here,” Tshiamo commented. We were standing on the open grassland above the dense bushveld. Though he was wearing a striped golf shirt and flipflops, in his orange ball cap he could have been hunting quail in the pine savannas of southern Georgia. He pointed to a windmill. “They pump water there,” he explained, “For the cattles.”
A throaty bark came from the bush, near the windmill. The dogs took off, the two sighthounds in the lead, followed by the two terriers and, at a distance, the pugilistic mastiff. “Let’s go, Thabo,” he said, and took off for the bush. Tshiamo is a tall guy and never broke from a quick striding sort of lope, but I had to run at times to keep up with him. The dogs dove through a barbed wire fence and into the dense bushveld. We followed them between the wires and took off through the bushveld, darting and ducking through the branches and brambles. As we scurried through the bush, Tshiamo told me we were chasing an impala. The impala stopped calling and the dogs lost the trail. We slowed down, following the dogs along a one-time road. The dogs stopped at a large hole below a thorny tree.
“Is this the home for jackal?” I asked Tshiamo. Afternoon was turning to dusk and the air was growing cold. I pulled my jacket tighter around me.
“Nyaa,” he responded, “Kolobe.”
Kolobe is the Setswana word for pig. “Kolobe…wait, kolobe? You mean, the one with the teeth?” I asked, gesturing for tusks.
Tshiamo nodded and disappeared into the hole with a feisty little terrier mutt named Magistrate, leaving me to fret by myself. His nonchalance worried me: we were deep in the bushveld, dusk was falling, and we were getting ready to piss off a warthog. Fantastic. I had been hoping for a rabbit or springbok, something whose defensive strategy involved speed rather than four-inch tusks.
Tshiamo popped his head out of the hole. “Thabo,” he asked, “Don’t you have a light?” I handed him my cell phone and he disappeared back into the hole. A couple of minutes later, he and Magistrate came out. Tshiamo was holding something in his hand. “No kolobe. It’s noko,” he said, holding up a porcupine quill.
Tshiamo decided the porcupine was holed up too deep. We continued along our way, and I was grateful. As we walked, Tshiamo pointed out – and responded in kind to – the different animals we heard calling from the bush. The manical yelping was a jackal; he explained that he can sell a jackal skin to the ngakas for R500, to be used in traditional medicine. The throaty bark coming from a cattle watering station was a male impala calling, which makes for a valuable source of protein. Night fell and we pushed farther into the bushveld.
Eventually we came out of the dense woodland into open grassland. “Where are we?” I asked.
Tshiamo looked at me. “It’s Letlhakaneng, Thabo.” Without the sun and topography to orient by, I had lost my bearings completely. Tshiamo walked me home. We talked about going hunting again – it never happened, and a few weeks later I was on a plane flying back stateside.
As I finished up my projects in Letlhakaneng over the last couple of months of my service, I had more time to engage with the community outside of the schools and Scouting, to open myself to others in a way I hadn’t yet achieved. The hours I had spent writing lesson plans and marking quizzes I was able to spend hunting in the bush or herding cattle or sitting on the front stoop with gogo hollering at perfectly well-behaved kids for being naughty. It was time well-spent – perhaps my best use of time during my two-year tenure.