The Bateleur

The last thing I did before I left the bush on Sunday morning was pour out what was left of my birthday MCC onto the dry African earth. I couldn’t possibly drink a whole bottle, and nobody else was going to drink it – so rather than let it go to waste, I decided to do something meaningful with it.

Birthday Sundowners

Pouring it into the ground was a libation: an offering to my present and my past; a form of thanks to the soil that has nurtured me for so long. It is soil that my very, very distant ancestors trod upon (in the poetic sense), and then left for distant horizons, only to return in ships and take possession of something that was not theirs.

My standing upon this land is rooted in so many tangled thickets of history, but that is not what I want to write about now. Instead, I want to write about what happened next.

It was a bittersweet moment. I had planned to leave only on Monday morning, but I’d battled terrible insomnia and bronchitis and knew that if I stayed another day I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I decided to leave the place I love most in the world.

A shadow passed over as the last of the wine foamed into the earth and I looked up. It was a bateleur eagle. My totem, the bird I love most, and the one I have drawn and painted obsessively since the age of 16. This bird was a male, not female – the sexes have different patterns on the underside of the wings – but it was deeply significant for me all the same. This bird features in the last two slides of my TEDxJohannesburg talk, and that it should appear out of the blue as I poured out the last of the sparkling wine given to me as a TEDx gift there had a neatness about it, a narrative symmetry, that is all too rare.

Not everything worked out for me that weekend, but this was a reassuring sign that I can read meaning into the world, and it can reflect meaning back at me, and that is good.

I left with a heart soaring like the bird, gently canting from side to side as it circled up and away, seeking, always seeking.





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