GIVING AND TAKING
The writer is travelling in the Kalahari area of southern Africa.
His party meet a group of Bushmen - men, women and children, who
have been travelling without food and water for several days.
Suddenly the woman turned away from the bright flow at the tap and
began examining the group of Bushmen as if counting heads. Dismay
showed on her face and a cry of self-reproach broke from her. Running
to her bundle of skin, she quickly untied it, took five ostrich
shells from it, rushed back to the tap and insisted on filling them
with water immediately. That done, her hands shaking with haste,
she plugged the openings in the shells with grass stoppers, ran
back to her skin shawl, wrapped the shells carefully in it and slung
it round her shoulder. At an astonishingly firm pace she set out
in the direction from which she had come and soon vanished from
We did not see her until an hour-and-a-half later, when she appeared
leading a very old Bushman couple into our midst. They too were
dreadfully thin; and yet, after having drunk only the water in the
five ostrich-egg shells, they had been strong enough to come after
us. The old man was upright and very dignified. His behaviour was
punctilious and formal....His old lady, dark and wrinkled with age
like a passion fruit about to fall, had the sweetest expression
on her face... Neither of them appeared fundamentally the worse
for their experience.
Later the writer visited the old couple in their camp.
[The old man] was lying on the sand on his side, his legs curled
up and his body supported on one elbow. Two little boys sat against
him, each with an arm over his legs....The expression on his face
was wonderful. It was so resolved and free of tensions that I felt
better for seeing him and full of respect. I asked who the two little
boys were. He said, his voice warm with pride, that they were his
grandsons. "Their place" was by the fire farthest from
his own. They never failed, he added, his hand on the head of the
elder, to come to him every night for "some men's talk".
From The Heart of the Hunter by Laurens van der Post
(Chatto & Windus).