Bryce Courtenay wrote this “coming of age” story in 1989 and yet I only came across it a few years ago. Ironic, in a sense, as I feel in some ways I am only just now “coming of age” myself. Better late than never… The novel, written in the first person, takes place in South Africa during the 1930’s and 1940’s and tells the story of a young English-speaking boy, Peekay, as he grows up during World War II and apartheid South Africa. Okay, at first blush it seems like I may be reaching a bit, the only obvious connection to this blog and The Power of One being the continent of Africa, but hear me out, and besides, when Evan caught this particular shot of a Cheetah tail, the first thing that popped into my head was The Power of One.
“Sometimes the slightest things change the direction of our lives, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth”. – Peekay.
Evan and I made our first trip to Africa together in 2009 (Evan had actually lived in South Africa for two winters in the 1980’s playing on the South African Sunshine Tour, ie., professional golf, so he had a bit of an opportunity to explore the country and had talked for years about going back). Our trip in 2009 was a combination of safari, golf photography and general exploration. We only spent four nights in the bush (Mala Mala – Rattray’s Camp – a private reserve sandwiched between Kruger National Park to the east and the Sabi Sands Wildtuin). Those four days were life-changing. To date, my attempts to articulate this experience have fallen woefully short. There were no near-death experiences (on our part anyway) despite our many physically close encounters with lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and hippos. I never felt afraid, instead, I had the most amazing adrenaline rush for four days running. I just felt incredibly ALIVE, really a heightened sense of awareness on so many levels, and so appreciative of this opportunity to witness life and connect with it on such a simple, beautiful level. On the day we left, I cried. I cried all the way from the camp, to the tarmac and onto the plane – and all the way back to Johannesburg. Evan and I promised each other we would return. I still am not sure why I was crying, I think I was touched to the core of my being. Africa hit me like a meteorite.
“Sometimes in life doing what we shouldn’t is the emergency…” – Hoppie Groenewald.
I am the oldest of four kids (displaying most of the typical traits of the first born, ie., high achiever, responsible, rule keeper, people pleaser, perfectionist, and controlling). None of these characteristics are necessarily good or bad, but they have played a role in who I have been. The question is, will they play a role in who I will be? I think the trait that bugs me the most, because it still has me more than I have it, is the “people pleaser”. An adjunct to this is that I always seem to “play it safe”. I am intent on altering this personal dynamic as I become more of aware of how it has a tendency to silently run me.
Anyway, back to Hoppie Groenewald’s advice… in the story, Peekay is given a shilling by his Grandfather with the specific instruction that it is only to be used in an emergency. Hoppie Groenewald is the train conductor who befriends Peekay. He is also a renowned boxer and he suggests to Peekay to bet on his fight that night. Peekay ultimately decides “not to play it safe” and puts all of Grandpa’s money on Hoppie…. (and, FYI, he ultimately wins big).
Where is this all going?? Still reeling from the effects of the “African meteorite”, we returned home and immediately began researching Africa Safari Trip #2 for 2010. I threw all my fiscal caution to the wind and told myself we would figure out a way to afford a two-week safari – at the time I felt incredibly irresponsible… but exploring Africa’s wildlife became “my emergency”. Thank goodness for Evan who has an amazing way of looking at the world and its boundless possibilities. Evan plays the role of “Hoppie Groenewald” perfectly.
“He had given me the power of one, one idea, one heart, one mind, one plan, one determination”. – Peekay.
On our second trip we returned to Mala Mala for a week with our guide, Dean Wraith. The following week marked our first foray into Botswana and the Okavango Delta. We traveled first to Duba Plains (owned by Great Plains Conservation and Dereck and Beverly Joubert). We had the camp to ourselves for the first three nights but on the fourth night shared it with a group of South Africans. The next morning we went out in two game vehicles, Evan and I in one and the South Africans in another. Evan took a picture of a large male lion, the leader of two prides, standing next to the truck filled with the South African guests. Known as “the Prime Minister”, he was towering and mighty. We followed him that morning until he single-handedly made a kill of a female Cape Buffalo (no small feat). The reason for all this background is that picture of the Prime Minister was what got the wheels in motion for everything that we are doing today.
Fast-forwarding through the details, Evan had the opportunity to meet Dereck and Beverly Joubert a few months later at the La Jolla, California premier of their movie, The Last Lions, shot, not coincidentally at Duba Plains. It was at this meeting he learned about the dire situation faced by the African Big Cats and the real threat of extinction. He vowed to make a difference with his photography. He enrolled me in his plan and we have been moving forward ever since – his photography, my writing and our voices taking a stand for the Big Cats.
“PS, Say always to yourself, first with the head and then with the heart, that’s how a man stays ahead from the start”. – Hoppie Groenewald
Read the book, get inspired, take a stand, and help us save the planet.