How poetry and writing helped me cope during lockdown

Posted on July 31, 2020 | by Active Africa

Active Africa guide, Laura Christie shares how writing and her grandmother’s poetry helped change her perspective after the COVID-19 lock down shut down the tourism industry in South Africa.

It took me almost 9 weeks to write this article. Earlier this year, I moved to a nature reserve just outside Hoedspruit, about 40 minutes from the Kruger National Park. I wanted to be closer to the safari action, immerse myself in the area and find great product to get out to the active market. And while I was at it, be a better person and grow up a little (read ‘a lot’).


Dealing with the COVID-19 fall out

I was highly motivated at first; full of ideas and ready, after many years of procrastinating over self-improvement, to take back my world. Cue Covid. First came the incredulity that this was happening. Then came the panic. Tourism was shutting down just as I was gearing up to start earning my own money. Finally, relief as my incredible brother offered financial assistance. Then all hope crashed as the initial three-week national lock down turned into an indefinite period.

Sarah on her 120km garden walk
Sarah and her friend Calvin, one of the many people who supported her during the 3 days of walking a 5km route, to complete 120km.

Tourism was well and truly crushed under the weight of this virus. Our economy went into free fall and with it, we saw people around us starving and miserable. The indulgence of writing an article to promote walking safaris to a market that could no longer travel seemed trivial. So I gave up, I hid my computer in my sock drawer and stopped checking emails.


Then my partner, Sarah walked 120km in three days around a 5km track in the reserve to raise funds for a charity. She was also miserable, but she pushed herself beyond her physical and emotional boundaries and came out limping, but triumphant. Sarah gave us a glimpse of hope by proving that the impossible could be overcome by pure willpower.


A new perspective

Then I found my grandmother’s poetry. She died before I was privileged enough to meet her, but she was a charismatic and strong woman who loved Africa deeply. As a freelance writer and mother of five living in 1960s and 70s Rhodesia, she took to writing poetry in response to her experiences. She struggled as she watched her beloved country settle into a brutal civil war which resulted in her son (my dad) being shot and wounded. Reading the poetry put my situation into perspective and prompted me to get my computer out of the drawer.


Here is one particular poem that struck a chord:


Build me no fences;

leave me to the

ever-encroaching bush.

Confine me not behind walls;

eyes cannot see

through bricks and mortar.

Arm me with words, not guns.

Words are not spent

as soon as a bullet drops.

Build me no fences.

I will not look at the sky

through diamond-mesh netting.


Writing about the Makuleke

So as I gained insight into my grandmother’s innermost fears through her poetry, I felt inspired to continue writing as a way to assuage my own fears. Although it felt as though my world was crumbling, her words made me realise that this current crisis is not forever. We are not shooting each other, but locking down our lives temporarily to save countless others. While writing about my love for walking safaris in the Makuleke area of Kruger National Park feels trivial, it is sharing my passion for a place that is not at all trivial. It is where I went to heal my broken heart and it is subsequently where I found love.

This is a place where history runs deep and we can learn about the ancient cultures that shaped our people. It is a place where we can observe nature, not as an outsider, but as a participant in an incredible, complicated ecosystem. Here we can climb baobabs, wade through rivers and watch elephants feeding. Here we can be a part of something that is beautiful, yet often brutal, something real, natural and desperately in need of our protection.


Writing and her grandmother's poetry helped Laura cope with the effects of lockdown

Laura and Sarah guide wilderness walking safaris deep in the Kruger National Park and are Active Africa’s northern nerve centre. Get to know them here


Read more about the Makuleke Concession in Laura’s thoughtful article.





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