Crossing The Kalahari Desert

A short story from the journal of one of today's most prolific authors on time and progress

face of author, Alan R Graham
Alan R Graham

November 30th, 2019

Supplement to the author's website Time's Paradigm,
a philosophy of science perspective.

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landscape image of solitary acacia tree with the Kalahari Desert beyond

Time from an absolute, unrealistic point of view

In 1973, at the blossoming age of eighteen, I was fortunate to be a passenger on board a Land Rover series III as I and five others made our way on dirt up through southern Botswana. We were headed for the Okavango and a few weeks of adventure, camping out with nature the intent and immersing ourselves in the bush. It must be said, during that whole week's drive north we did not come across one single vehicle either coming or going, until we reached the Chobe. We were true pioneers.

rocky African landscape

We had been seven for a time on this safari, having picked up an armed wildlife officer at the border with South Africa (a legal requirement at the time for visitors to Botswana), but we lost a body due to a blood lusting tse-tse fly invasion early on. They were swarming the Land Rover, a good sign that the area in which we were travelling would be host to herds of wildlife, though not a positive point of view shared by all. We were not mistaken, springbok, impala and kob were everywhere... lions, too, often lying in the shade under scrub beside the dirt track we were following.

A pair of male zebras kicking up

On the second day in, our progress was rudely interrupted by the appearance of a helicopter. The young girl sitting opposite me smiled, opened the tail-gate of the Landy and got out. She smoothed down her crumpled, tie-dye skirt, checked her make-up one final time and then stepped away to the chopper, never to be seen again. She was clearly from a rich family and as we had gathered not really an out-doorsie type; how she had gotten in touch with 'daddy' was a mystery to all (if indeed she had) as mobile phones had not yet been invented.

Fireside chat inevitably lead to some outlandish theories about her disappearance, none more compelling than the idea that she had been a fugitive running away from home, and that daddy, a prominent South African figure, had swooped in having been alerted by immigration at the border.

wild African antelope portrait, kudu with horns

So we were six again. The following night we camped out by a small creek, four tents in a clear and open space amongst trees. We had been told by the guide that the river did not have any crocodiles in it so an intrepid few of us had a bathe while the rest sat on the banks as lookouts, you know, just in case. That night a pride of lions with cubs decided to investigate our campsite. Crap! Our flimsy tents were a death trap; the trees seemed like our best means of survival so we huddled close to a large trunk ready to climb if they approached. The wildlife officer, rifle at the ready, was pointing nervously into the darkness, assuring us that all was well and that he could see in the dark. Suddenly he turned to face us.

"The rifle..! Point the rifle that way," we hissed at him.

To which he replied. "Bwana, I have no bullets!"

Needless to say we spent the rest of the night in the trees.

wild male African lion standing in dry grass

Sunrise was a huge relief. We stumbled around tent pegs, guy ropes and a coffee pot for a bit then wearily loaded up, giggling hysterically all the while about our fortunes in pathetic post-traumatic survival mode.

Next stop, The Kalahari Pan, we were then told. I was an aspiring wildlife photographer, by that I mean I hadn't sold a single photograph but I was amassing a collection. A few hours into the morning and up ahead the bush was thinning, grass was giving way to sand, barren was becoming desolate.

By noon, where the last gasping acacia tree for miles gave up some shade to a group of mud huts, we ground to a halt and got out. We were introduced to the dust-pasted faces of a couple of bedragled white missionaries among a number of the indigenous, bushmen population living there and, after some discussion it was agreed that their boss, a large bearded South African, would take us across the flats -- apparently he did the journey often.

arid desert landscape in Southern Africa salt pans, Etosha

So we loaded up with biltong and loaded into his rustic truck, a stretched Land Rover with a colourful canvass canopy and rows of tiered seats. Then, within a few yards, we left bush behind and rolled out into the foreboding desert beyond.

The experience was surreal. Our chauffer, whose name I cannot remember, got his vehicle up to about 30 miles an hour and fourth gear, then jammed the gas peddle down with a block of wood. Having set our course on a compass mounted to the dashboard, he tied the steering wheel down with a rope. After a few minutes of considering his work, he rose out of the driver's seat, turned around and came back into the passenger section to sit with us. There was no one driving.

After a few minutes of laughter it slowly dawned on us -- all of us...

Botswana, Kalahari Desert flat landscape to horizon.

For thereabouts an afternoon we watched a horizon that never changed. Once the bush behind us had disappeared, there was nothing anymore in any direction that anyone could relate to; the world, reality and our perception of existence had simply been extinguished. It was an extraordinary revelation. We stopped for a pee and to stretch our legs at some stage, but when and where and how long we had been at 'sea' was lost to us, neither concept having any bearing on our predicament. It was as if we were not actually going anywhere in time or space.

The mysterious rock formation rising from the flat Kalahari Desert

Because of the lack of visual things to relate to and that all engrossing need for input we could only look inwards for answers, within our own selves. Relevance was being denied us, abruptly replaced by absurdities. Where were we on a universal scale? Knowns became unknowns, unimportant things important, our minds searching for reason as to size and shape with a horizon that beguiles us, the significance of infinities ruling our awareness and firing up senses that I still feel to this day.

There is no such thing as progress. Only because we are amassed on a planet altogether and are surrounded by each other and the things we are familiar with do we feel the effects of time. We forget to consider the fundamentals of existence – where we are!

Out in The Kalahari Desert so called 'reality' is thus dissolved.

What we humans experience of life is an illusion that can only be appreciated if we have tasted a moment of inward, self-reflection wherein lies the truth: We are aware because we don't know where we are.

If time is just an illusion then what are we aware of, exactly?

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Meme explaining The Kalahari Effect as an illusory encapsulation of our awareness of time.

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