Sleeping with the hippos
As we walked through the darkness on a moonless night, the sound of dry mopane leaves crushing beneath our feet was amplified in the silence, the wind was still. I could only tell the difference between the path and an opening in the trees by watching the bundle on the woman’s head move up and down in front of me as she walked. We were walking to the dam’s edge to deliver food to Safira’s husband who had been protecting a small plot of maize for four months. In the dry season the water behind the dam recedes and the margins of the reservoir become suitable for cropping with no need for rain, but leaving the crops unguarded was like serving dinner to the hippos. Mavele, the shangaan word for maize, also means breast, the lifeline of every household. Sleeping each night for four months in a makeshift shelter to protect a few square meters of maize is one of the many practices people in the region employ to produce enough food to live on. Natural resources form the core of livelihood activities and erratic rains make food security a constant struggle. When the area in which Safira and her husband lived became a national park, new threats to food security emerged, including crop-raiding elephants. The residents of their village, the village of Nanguene, were resettled to a location outside of the park, to make room for tourists, and for elephants.