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Sharon Pincott

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE


Here’s a glimpse into Sharon Pincott’s book ‘The Elephants and I’

By Sharon Pincott

Another fine African day draws to a close as I sit on the rooftop of my faithful old Range Rover. A gentle breeze cools my body as I breathe in the quiet beauty of the summer sunset. Ahead, the blood red sun will soon touch the horizon. An elephant family is feeding close by, expertly snaking their trunks around dried clumps of grass, kicking with giant front feet to help loosen their supper from the ground. Dust, tinged pink and gold in the fading light, floats high into the air. Baboons sit silhouetted on termite mounds, while flocks of guineafowl scamper about, busy with evening chatter. A grove of acacias, old and wise like the elephants, stands guard over the approaching night.
I lower myself into my 4×4 and call out, ‘Come on Lady, come girl, come here my girl.’
Lady is a fully grown jumbo who roams freely in the wilds of Africa. She’s one of a clan of wild elephants said to be protected by a ‘presidential decree’. Born wild. Living wild, with no fences to restrain her. The matriarch of a family of 17, Lady comes to me when I call her, like a familiar friend.
Her massive, placid form is soon beside my door. I look into her amber-coloured eyes, so filled with wisdom and warmth. Her incredibly long eyelashes, dark and mesmerising, are momentarily tinted ochre by the warm glow of the setting sun. I slowly reach my arm towards her, and gently place my hand on her trunk.
I am the first human to earn her complete trust. Some say she has bestowed on me the status of ‘honorary elephant’ – and I am moved and deeply honoured.
The smell of life around me is so intense that I can almost reach out and touch it, and I feel the freedom of being, right now, the only human around. I sit quietly, reflecting. I’m here in the exalted company of the largest land mammals on earth. I had once dreamed of being in such extraordinary company and now I am living my dream. Life has meaning and I have large grey friends.
Eight years ago (or maybe it was 80; it often seems difficult to be sure) I was living an extravagant life Down Under, in a world filled with countless material pleasures. There was family, friendship and fun, but somehow the rest of it lacked real meaning. Wild Africa, half a world away, beckoned. Like a powerful magnet, it drew me in – naive, a dreamer, unaware of the commitment or involvement that it would bring.
‘Zimbabwe?’ my family and friends had asked, bewildered. ‘You’re going to live in Zimbabwe?’
Zimbabwe, in the dawn of the new millennium, was not where many people chose to be. Yet I resolved to invest my hopes and my dreams in this troubled country, a land in dire need of both hope and dreams. And I was initially rewarded with a sense of fulfilment and contentment like I had never experienced before. Elephants were the reason I’d left my large suburban home in Brisbane, Australia, to live in a small hut in the Zimbabwean bush. They were the reason I’d given up a high-flying corporate life as an Information Technology (IT) specialist.
I could not know, though, from my idyllic early days of intimate wildlife encounters, sundowners, campfires and savannah breezes, that I would eventually find myself embroiled in challenges way beyond my imagination.
Nevertheless, here I remained – a million miles from my childhood home, yet completely at home.
Through the deepening twilight I glance to my right at the grove of towering acacia trees. Perhaps, I muse, like these acacias, having a thorny hide had helped me to survive here. But why, I wonder, do I choose hardships that, as a volunteer, I’m not obliged to endure? In these unlikely surroundings, comforted at this moment by the rich sounds and smells of the African veld at dusk, I ponder how on earth I got to where I am now.
I think back to my childhood, my career, and the events and people that were pivotal in me choosing this unusual life. So much has happened since then. Had I known what lay ahead, would I ever have come to this place? Probably not, I admit to myself. But given the chance, would I do it again? Yes, absolutely yes – of that I’m certain.
I remember a friend once commenting, ‘There’s a tragic appeal in lost causes.’
Is that what this was, a lost cause?
Whatever it was, this place – filled with poignant beauty and wonder, and with elephants – was now my home. In time, I felt a profound sense of responsibility towards my four-legged friends and so, even when disillusionment and fear became my constant companions, and the First World beckoned, I trudged on.
Having been so warmly accepted by the giants of the wild, there were many times that my spirit soared with joy. But there were many other trying times when I felt my resolve crumble under the weight of unbearable sadness.
Yet, despite everything, while driving through the Zimbabwean veld – on my daily mission to protect my elephant friends – I always tried to remember to make space on the seat beside me. For hope.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    March 15th, 2010 @22:43 #

    Wishing you well, Sharon, and the elephants too.


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