The mokoro glides through the shallow, murky waters of the delta and onto land. I climb out, firmly gripping my camera; not ready to let go of what I have just captured. As the rest of my group head back to camp to tell those that stayed behind what we encountered, I linger by the shore. I close my eyes, in an attempt to relive my encounter when I’m disturbed by a partition in the tall, unkempt grass across the bank.
As we trundle down the dirt road out of the campsite, the truck sends a vortex of dust into the previously stagnant air. We pass by huts crouched in the shadows, encompassed by grazing cattle and the bright faces of locals, before arriving at the entryway to the Okavango Delta, Africa’s biggest oasis.
After some lawless commotion, we’re assigned a poler and a mokoro; a traditional canoe. I clamber inside and before I lose my balance, I sit back. We push off and I find myself listening intently to the sound of the mokoro passing through reed beds and water lilies, somewhere between a swish and wizz. I discuss life on the delta with my poler, a local guy named Shoes. He tells us stories of his childhood, of the delta itself and how he came to earn the name Shoes. I’m hanging on his every word but we’ve reached our campsite.
Once tents are erected, firewood collected and the toilet dug (there are no luxuries in the middle of Africa); Shoes offers to guide me deeper into the delta. I hurriedly locate my camera and follow Shoes down to the mokoro. Others in the group have caught wind of my proposal and follow suit. After only a short time on the water, Shoes’ hand shoots into the air, silencing the group. He’s spotted something. I crane my neck, trying to catch a glimpse of what it is that he can see.
Out of the tree line lumbers a lone elephant, a bull. Paying us no attention, he continues his quest for food, stretching his weathered trunk to reach the higher branches of a fragrant marula tree; completely oblivious to the impact his presence has on the group. I feel an overwhelming sense of exhilaration. We linger, in a trance-like state, until the elephant has taken what he can from the tree and wanders back into the bush and out of sight.
Shoes gets us safely back to camp and while the rest of the group wander in purposefully, armed with stories of our encounter, I’m just not ready to share mine so I stay close to the water’s edge. I gaze out into the delta, thinking of my late grandmother and how she would have cherished my recollection of this moment.
Abruptly, I’m brought back to the present by movement from across the bank. I study the long grass, waiting on tenterhooks – after all, I am in Africa. Suddenly, yet at the same time in slow motion, the grass parts and there he is. The lone bull.
At an almost sloth-like pace, I bring my camera towards my eye, attempting to capture everything that this moment is. Only then, as tears are falling, do I realise that happiness is pouring out of me like sunshine through fine white linen, pure and light.