The mopane bushveld of southern Botswana is a magical place. This is how I remember it:
orange-yellow rust coloured earth – scraggly mopane trees with leathery butterfly shaped leaves – abandoned shells of giant land snails – trees snapped at the base by rambling elephants – rhino dung set upon anxiously by tribes of dung beetles – southern yellow-billed hornbills gliding in wide arcs from tree to tree – baobab trees towering above the bushveld scrub, ancient and otherworldly – the sound of a startled leopard’s nails gripping dry tree bark – the crimson African sunsets – abandoned ant hills excavated by aardvarks…
And that’s only a fraction of what’s on show in daylight; after dark everything changes when a cast of noisy and unusual characters wake up: bushbabies, aardvarks, pangolins, giant crickets, nightjars.
All the buzzing bush activity made me curious so I decided to explore on my own (not a good idea in the wild) – risking it down an overgrown footpath on the banks of the Limpopo River. I was on high alert for something big and potentially angry, but instead, I was startled by a tiny creature racing across the footpath. It stopped suddenly, hiding in the shade under a nearby shrub. I peered into the shadows and slowly an elephant shrew, or sengi, came into view, looking something like this:
We froze – sized each other up and waited – then he, or she, was gone.
The result of that day is a new book, Mister Sengi’s Very Big Friend. It is the story of an elephant shrew who wants to see the world through the eyes of something much bigger than himself.
A number of story iterations, and many drawings later, the tale was beautifully captured and written by Charles de Villiers. The book is scheduled to appear in December 2013.