I’ve just been on a weekend trip to the Manyaleti game reserve and it was astonishing in every single way. Apart from the stunning lodge, the food and the extraordinary game viewing, the trip got me thinking a lot about names.
We stayed at a lodge called Honeyguide. Honeyguides are smart birds. They lead people to beehives, wait for them to feast on the honey and then they feast on the insects and wax left behind.
There were tons of honey birds around and it was beautiful to see them. And to eat the honey.
Our game ranger’s name was Brilliant and he was seriously brilliant, leading us not just to honey but to all things sweet. Lion, leopard, rhino, mongeese, porcupine, birds, bees, plants and trees with extraordinary medicinal qualities.
I learned a lot. The bark of a Weeping Boer-Boen can cure a hangover. I made a note for my ancient lover that tea from a large leafed Rock Fig can help erectile dysfunction. And the Red Bushwillow is good for depression.
Brilliant’s mentor was a man named Knowledge. He was very serious when he told us about him and we couldn’t help smiling. But then we met Knowledge and he was exactly as his name.
Smart. Wise. And extremely knowledgeable.
‘I was born in a classroom in the school where my mother worked,’ he told us.
African children are often given the name explaining the circumstances of their birth. I’ve met many a Surprise, a Goodness and a Gift.
We asked Brilliant about his family and he told us about his daughters.
‘My daughters’ names are Purity and Patience,’ he said.
‘Amazing names’ we replied, but then he laughed and told us he was messing with us.
His daughters have western names.
It’s the way that village life is changing.
Which brings me to the villages. On our drive to Honeyguide we got horribly lost. Or, deliciously lost, whichever way you look at it. Our drive took us along gravel roads and through small dusty African villages that were quite extraordinary.
While we skidded over potholes and dodged cows, goats and people, we took note of the names of the villages we went through.
Tintswalo. (intangible feeling of love)
‘I grew up in Mkhuhlu,’ Brilliant told us. ‘The village has not had water in 20 years. The word Mkhuhlu means ‘dry’. The Government promised water in 2015 but progress has been slow.’
It looked pretty non-existent from what we saw.
‘What about Manyaleti?’ we asked him.
‘That means place of stars,’ he replied. ‘It is where we are now.’
Manyaleti is indeed the place of stars. The park borders Kruger National Park and there are no fences. Unlike Kruger there are few tourists. Few tourists, millions of stars, amazing bush, extraordinary animals and a guide named Brilliant.
It couldn’t get better.
Except we drove home via a place called Mashishing.
Mashishing means ‘Place of Suffering.’ And it really is a miserable place.
I think that is Africa.
We have stars and we have suffering.
And we have names that have great meaning.
We should respect them all.