Back in day, in the old country, in a public high school, in the apartheid era under the Dutch Reform Government when I was 16 – it was a rite of passage in Year 10 to go to what’s called Veld School (for my Australians it’s pronounced Felt School and Veld translated means Bush). What I should also mention is that conscription was still alive and well and I suppose in some sense this was a misconstrued attempt by some to give the boys a taste of what was coming in two years time. Guns not included.
Percy – of the pavement trawling fame – is somewhat fainthearted. Percy begged me, not to go. But, the peer pressure was too much and I was after all, 16 and invincible. [And naïve and stupid].
I prepared by packing my suitcase with various outfits (think Studio 54) and tins of condensed milk.
Percy refused to let me leave the house without his Swiss Army Knife. It was the least he could do if I was insisting on going out there on my own into the wild green yonder. I felt protected. And able to open my cans of condensed milk successfully. Yeah right.
My stomach started churning about 2 metres before the bus pulled out of the school parking lot. Revelation. Too late though I’m afraid.
The next seven days of my life were possibly the worst. The churning stomach turned into full-blown anxiety diarrhoea by the time they dumped us bags and all on an abandoned airstrip outside a rainforest, 3km from the first campsite. Did I mention that it was “back in the day”? None of those fancy wheelie cases. Just the old fashioned type with the handle that you have to carry with the arms and hands. Not good. And 10 tins of condense milk are heavy.
And then the rain kicked in. I mentioned the campsite was located in a rainforest. Rain. Forest.
The only, ONLY reason they didn’t bring me back in a straightjacket was my girl Tanya, who instinctively knew that this was way more than I could deal with. She stuck to me 24/7. When they dropped us in the middle of the nowhere at night with a compass to navigate home and when we hiked fuck knows to where through bush (see photo above) and rivers and muck. But more importantly at night when I inevitably had to run to the bathroom at least three times on average and had to climb through a rotting wood cabin window to get there. On one occasion my pajama bottoms got caught on a loose nail and I was stuck hanging by the pants at 2am out a window. Tanya still laughs about this – I kept those pants with the hole for years after – to remind myself about when I was stupid and that peer pressure is for dummies.
Fast-forward about 25 years. Miss12 was off on survival camp two weeks ago. The weekend before, trawling through Anaconda getting the required list of equipment (yes, they got A LIST – which by the way did not include 10 tins of condensed milk), Miss9 grabbed my arm, and asked what was wrong. I was sweating and hyperventilating. “Nothing sweetie” I replied, “Mommy’s just having a small post-traumatic stress moment”.
And then I thought, WTF am I doing ? In no universe will Miss12 ever need these “survival” skills. And chances are she’ll come back with lice. Just saying.
Cross questioning a teacher as the bus was trying to leave left me assured. See, he’s an ex-school mate from back in the day. Once I had him in a headlock he assured me that if they did to these kids what they did to us – we’d sue them to Brazil and back. This was survival camp – 2012 style. Airconditioned buses included.
They stayed in real tents. Anaconda-style. There were no actual anaconda’s. [But there was a cow and some alpacas apparently].
The menu did not comprise of bread and jam and bread and jam. And condensed milk.
And that condensed milk, aside from its weight in the suitcase – not such a good idea on a nervous stomach with a Swiss Army knife that you don’t know how to use in the dark. Tanya and I had some sticky sticky sleeping bags.
Miss12 arrived back happily exhausted and dirty. Minus her state of the art toiletry bag. And that begs the question how something that looks like this:
Gets camouflaged in the Bush?
In conclusion I must surmise that there’s one happy little alpaca out there smelling like dove bodywash with enough panadol for its headaches for the next 10 years and who is partial to Pantene shampoo and conditioner and who also has a stash of Savlon antiseptic cream in case of insect bites, scratches, minor burns or cuts. And honestly – he/she can keep the toothbrush but I’d really appreciate it if I could have the bag back.