Mombo Memories – And I swear, by the moon and the stars in the skies…

Oct 3, 2017 Mombo Memories
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Easily the best of the many amazing things about being involved in the Moremi Rhino Reintroduction Project was getting to work with Poster – rhino tracker extraordinaire and 1.98m of outstanding human being. I say, ‘work with’, but truth be told I mostly trailed along after him, pretending that technology could find rhinos when nine times out of ten, it was Poster’s uncanny abilities that located them.

We got to spend a lot of time together on the back of DWNP vehicles, driving up and down Chief’s Island. Our life essentially became one long game drive, through some of the most prolific wildlife-viewing habitats in all Botswana.

This also gave us plenty of time to chat, and over time we got to know each other really well. I fondly imagined that it would be the ideal opportunity for me to learn Setswana, and indeed it would have been, had I been a better student.

After a few weeks, my vocabulary reached a plateau that consisted of animal names, types of food, and human excretory processes (letting the driver know I needed a bio break made each mission rather more comfortable). As an Englishman in Africa, I also naively imagined I could pass on the language of Shakespeare to the locals. It turned out that I came closer to sharing the language of Chaucer or Billy Connolly. Poster was a much faster student than I was, and added to his English far more quickly than I expanded my limited Setswana.

Quite how quickly was revealed one Mombo Boma Night. Boma Night is a Monday fixture in all of Wilderness’ Camps in Botswana, and allows guests to experience something of the country’s rich heritage through traditional food, song and dance. It’s a real highlight for many of our guests, and can be quite an emotional experience.

My stiff upper lip became endangered the first time I heard the Mombo choir sing a song they had composed in my honour. These days, you have to be a soccer legend or a popstar’s ex to have a song written about you. I wasn’t about to be immortalised in verse as either, but the fact that I was ‘Rhino Boy’ (a nickname that took many years to shake off) seemed to amuse the staff, and so a song was written.

My limited Setswana meant that I had no idea what it was actually about; my less constrained ego assumed it was complimentary. Poster also composed songs – he is as adept at playing the guitar and singing as at tracking rhinos. His most popular song – one which really struck a chord – was about Mombo memories, and was called, if I remember correctly, ‘It’s a Memory’.

One particularly lusty rendition suddenly came to a halt when Poster appeared to lose his place in the song (he was playing, naturally enough, from memory). This pause lasted long enough for silence to descend upon the hushed, expectant choir and the hushed, expectant guests.

Cue Poster expressing his disappointment – in his booming voice – using a choice bit of Yorkshire that he could only have picked up from one person. As expletives go, it was a very mild one, but I felt dozens of eyes upon me and I glowed the same colour as the coals in the fire, wishing that the earth would open and swallow me.

Mercifully, the strumming and singing soon recommenced, and the evening progressed as planned. I’m sure no-one else remembers this incident – certainly it was never mentioned again, but for me, forever, it’s a memory.

Written by Nick Galpine

Photographs by Dana Allen

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By Nick Galpine

The call of the wild – and too many BBC wildlife documentaries – persuaded Nick to abandon the smoky steelworks of his childhood for the clear waters and immense skies of the Okavango Delta. Arriving at Mombo on the same truck as the first reintroduced white rhinos in late 2001, Nick soon realised (as did the rhinos) that this truly was heaven and earth. With the ashes of his return ticket to the UK cooling in a campfire somewhere on Chief’s Island, Nick spent the next several years helping monitor the first wild rhinos in Botswana in a decade. Several years of camp management across the Wilderness portfolio subsequently ensued but by early 2014 it was time to check out a different kind of jungle and Nick relocated to Johannesburg to focus on marketing, and pursue his interest in the manoeuvres of the world’s finest taxi drivers.

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