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RE: [Gabon Discussion] Tracking Bubu

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  • Gary Marsh
    Bob, This sounds like a pretty interesting book. Worth reading. Thanks for the suggestion. GM To: gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.comFrom: bobutne@yahoo.comDate:
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 11, 2008
      This sounds like a pretty interesting book.
      Worth reading. Thanks for the suggestion.

      To: gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.comFrom: bobutne@...: Sun, 10 Feb 2008 19:03:52 +0000Subject: [Gabon Discussion] Tracking Bubu

      Book Review by Oliver Roberts http://www.thetimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Lifestyle/Article.aspx?id=699302On paper, at least, it's easy to make cynical assumptions about Catja Orford. The introduction to her book, Tracking BuBu � in which she documents her 15-month stay in Gabon, via a collection of e-mails and journal entries � immediately gave me the impression that she is just another 20-something girl who's been living off her rich dad for too long, and decided, out of privileged tedium, to lurk around in savage, central Africa for a bit and portray the experience as some heroic adventure.The first e-mail, sent to "the girls", reads: "Dear janine, clauds and caro: my dad ruthlessly struck me off his payroll today... Just like that and I'm only 26 years old!! What does he expect me to do? Survive!?... He chose his moment just after I declared bankruptcy, a state resulting from a decadent holiday in Kenya, as he puts it." Expecting � and perhaps deviously wanting � more of this soggy narrative set against a `my- sufferings-in-Africa' backdrop, I read on. Then, with laughter that first appeared as if hiding from its own naivety, then suddenly becoming enlightened, I began to enjoy it. And I didn't care.Using a lucky-packet combination of insightful, sharp and ditsy prose, and beautifully assisted by energetic illustrations, Orford portrays her most intimate experiences with unembarrassed poise, reminding the reader of the necessity of simple human fears, self- doubt and the childish delight of exploration. You also discover that Orford, while it is true that she has never had a permanent job, is an inspired conservationist with a master's degree in her field. The original purpose of Orford's trip was to team up with a group of researchers at the Mikongo Conservation Camp and track the rare, western lowland-gorilla, which lurks in the dank, shadowy depths of Gabon's Lope National Park. The gorilla was rarely spotted, so it's the events in between Orford's excursions into the jungle (where she admits she is too clumsy to be a decent tracker), and the camp where she lives, that become the focus of the book. "I never, ever thought I'd be a writer," Orford tells me when we meet for coffee among the Wednesday morning hoards at Rosebank Mall. "But when I got to Gabon, all my friends were asking, `What's it like? What's it like?', and it inspired me to write. I decided to save the e- mails, not really expecting them to end up in a book."She hopes that Tracking BuBu � with its playful approach and youthful tone � will appeal to a broad audience, especially those who wouldn't normally pick up a book on nature . So far, the response has been a great surprise; interest in the book has resulted in an appearance on morning television and interviews on several radio stations.Orford was born in Johannesburg and grew up in Botswana. She has a gin-and-tonic ex-pat demeanour, which is no less dampened by a posh inflection that makes her words sound as if they tip-toe out of her mouth, trying not to break apart as they emerge. Orford turns 30 this year, but has eyes that are old in the most endearing way � they appear wrung out by years of laughter in harsh sun, and emit the distant, restless gaze of a nomad. Her chest and arms are coated in a satisfied sunburn."I think my explorative spirit is innate, perhaps even hereditary: I have two great aunts who did some significant exploration at the turn of the century. I grew up loving animals and space and wanting to be different. I think that's part of it, isn't it? If everyone was an explorer, I'd probably want an office job."In her book, Orford relates several encounters with overbearing misogynists, and admits that the fight to remain feminine in such a male set up was far harder � and more important � than the fight to survive the hazards of jungle life. Orford's assertiveness seems to be the result of a life's decision not to be regulated by men, and she achieves this without being patronising or losing any of her wild femininity.For some urban women of Orford's age, doing whatever they feel usually involves something as feebly reckless as eating half a chocolate cake in one sitting, or daring to go to a restaurant in the big, bad CBD. For Orford, the freedom to disregard the mind's well-worn habit for logic and self-preservation involves the pursuit of far more impressive danger. She worked in Kenya shortly after her stay in Gabon and, rather than fly the 500km back to her home in Botswana, she decided to walk it with a Masai. It took two and a half weeks. Oh, and she wore flip-flops the whole way."There was nothing romantic about it � no sitting around a fire at night singing Kumbaya," she says. "We were up every day at sunrise and walked until nightfall. One time, we didn't eat for three days."It is this thrill � the common, spontaneous rush of travel � that both uplifts and frustrates Orford. Mortality means that our own discovering will come to an end, while those still remaining � the living � continue to find newness without a regard for our absence. The ironic curse of wanting to absorb so much out of life is that, while you're busy trying to remember all the details, the actual moment falls away. "I do everything to the extreme � I have to eat everything on my plate, drink every glass of wine, talk to every single person and smoke every single cigarette available that night. It's all or nothing for me, so I really have to do everything to try and fill everything up, but I never will. I've only got another 80 years."Orford's tone in her book is lively and social, but, on meeting her, she is surprisingly subdued, nervous even. Perhaps it's the environment, and all these people walking by with shopping bags. During our conversation, Orford reiterates her love for space, letting that single word out with two interrupted feather-touches of hisses, as if to show it is her most valued state of being. "Space is the most extraordinary thing about Africa. In Gabon, I was the most isolated I have ever been in my life, and I started writing because of that," she says. "I was able to sit in the afternoons, staring out into the far distance or observing the things right in front of me. I suddenly saw a whole new career in myself, and felt this new confidence. That sounds awfully corny, I know, but it's true."When the interview finishes, I get up and shake Orford's hand and we go off in different directions. A moment later I turn back to watch her walking among the crowds � curious to see how an explorer moves through such confined surrounds � but she has already vanished..............................................................Note: I was in Mikongo Primate Research Center (original name) in June 2002 and also viewed several gorillas. The Mikongo camp was built by two US Peace Corps Volunteers in the lates 90's.

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