Kgalagadi dreamtimeby Timothy Gabb / 08.10.2013
Zoom in. The heat hammers at the tinted windows of the SUV I’m travelling in. Outside is a dry burning fever of mirage; red sand dunes bake in the midsummer sun. Lizards dart off as movement evokes survival in them. I’m entering the Kalahari for the first time. The light blinds my eyes behind glasses behind glass. I wind down the window, and the hot air that rushes in burns my face. The horizon darts alive; a fata morgana confounds my mind’s stability. I enter the dream, smiling and excited, curious and uncomfortable.
From above, this landscape appears as a textured leather over the battered body of an ancient emaciated creature. Furrows and dimples; grains and noise – a coarse yet poetic orchestration of sandy form. The speedy and air-cooled traverse from the sleeping Cape hasn’t allowed my body nor my mind to adapt yet. We stop for a ciggie break. I get out of the luxurious vehicle and roll a smoke. I light it. The air that I breathe in makes me cough. The cigarette tastes revolting. My face feels vulnerable. I feel like I’m cooking in my own blood. Get back in the car. Carry on.
The Kalahari is a semi-desert that relies on seasonal rainfall every year to quench it’s parched soils. Animals here are otherworldly, like creatures of a new and devastatingly dry deep. Their forms are extraordinary, preternatural. They have adapted to terrains inhospitable to other forms of life. Like beneath the sea, where organisms live in complete darkness and develop in frightening and grotesque ways, these animals are of a similar ilk – creatures of the blinding light and driving sun.
Take the gemsbok, for instance. A beautifully ordained mule, with face markings reminiscent of almost all shamanic assimilation. Its horns are antennae, long and far reaching, receiving waves undulating through the dark passages of space. Here in the Kalahari, I cannot help but compare their shape to the holy Mantis of the Bushmen who once lived independently in this land. /Kaggen, the divine form, manifest in the Praying Mantis and the Eland. Here everything is holy, celestial and seems privy to another magic, another understanding.
This understanding is gestured towards once the sun cools off in the evenings. The sky dulls down into a pastel horizon, and the stars slowly appear in the darkening sky, like a photograph taking form in a darkroom solution. Magic in front of my eyes. The birds’ talk slowly subsides. The barking geckos start up. The temperature drops. It gets magical.
The northern cape is a friendly province. The people are the landscape. The animals are the landscape. The landscape is the dream. Time moves differently to other parts of the country. Because of the severity of the heat in summer, things must happen early in the morning, and late in the afternoon. If you’re not adapted to the climate, midday, which begins at about 10am and endures until about 5pm, is a dangerously difficult time to get things done. And so you fall into a more primeval routine of early rising and early retiring.
In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, early rise means rushing to the waterhole. Caravans and trailers and massive bakkies burst forth from the pre-dawn blueness and illuminate their world with spotlights and flasks of coffee. The movie screen is your window. The volume control, your imagination. And your ability to be patient is your restriction to what gets shown on that particular channel. I soon learn to be receptive, like gemsbok. I learn to watch the movement of birds to signify threats lurking beyond my senses. The agitated twitch of a tale could indicate the visceral onslaught of hunger, the looming approach of a predator. The distant log obscured by the shade may reveal to be a sophisticated and vital arrangement of flesh and impeccable cosmic design. The extended body of the human trolls through the dust and heat, searching for forms in the tapestry of the Kalahari. Or the Kgalagadi, depending on whether you’re inside a certain fence or not.
Senses alert, I sit in the dusty swirls of whirlwinds. Lots of time to dream. Lots of space to become. I wake, and rub sleep from my brow. Or is it red sand in my eye? The climate is cool again. I smell fynbos through the open window of my Sea Point room, and wonder: how real can dreams be? How impressionistically could experience recede?
* Images © Timothy Gabb