The Ultimate Safari

by Nadine Gordimer

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A young girl acts as narrator as she relates the tribulations of what is left of her family. There has been a rebellion and her father has probably been killed in it. The girl narrates that her mother went to the shop one evening for oil, but she has not returned. After her mother does not come back, the girl and her siblings huddle together in fear and stay inside for a night and a day until their grandmother and grandfather come to them.

Because she is much healthier than her husband, the grandmother gathers the children and takes them to her home. There is little left for them there, however, as the bandits have stolen the cow and three sheep. A nursing mother donates some of her milk for the narrator's baby brother, and the grandmother leads the children out to find wild spinach that they can eat. The children remain with their grandparents for about a month. Finally, because the grandfather has no seeds to plant and no livestock, the family departs. The children are glad to leave the tragic place where their mother and father no longer exist and there is no food.

Along the way the grandmother gives her church clothes in trade for water, and she sells her shoes to buy a container for the water. Later, a man leads them into the Kruger Park, the national reserve:

A kind of whole country of animals – elephants, lions, jackals, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles, all kinds of animals—

in order to cross to a safer place. He tells the family that they must go the long way around the electric fence, which he cautions them not to touch. The man also tells the family that they must move like animals with the animals, and they must not make any fires or talk to any of the workers in the park.

Not long after they start their journey, the narrator's little brother becomes listless and stops talking. He must be shaken awake in the same way his grandfather must be. Nonetheless, the family perseveres, and they walk during the night as well as in the daytime. They see fires where the white people visiting the game preserve have camps, and they can smell the meat and the smoke from their fires. But they dare not ask anyone for anything. Even the native people who work there cannot feed them or they will lose their jobs.

Somehow along the way, the grandfather, who has become very debilitated and merely mutters rather than speaks, wanders off and is lost in the high grass of the preserve. After searching for him without success, the starving family must keep moving. At last, the grandmother and the children reach the refugee camp where they are provided some space under a big white tent that they close off with cardboard. The narrator's little brother has become so emaciated that he just stares and can no longer talk. He is given some medicine, and the grandmother is told that he may revive. The children are given shots.

The family stays in this tent most of the time, but the narrator and her brother do go to school. With her earnings from carrying bricks, the grandmother purchases shoes for the narrator and her brother, although she is still without any herself. She has the children clean these shoes every morning before school begins. No one else has shoes like these, the narrator comments. She adds,

When we three look at them it’s as if we are in a real house again, with no war, no away.

One day some white people come and interview the people living in the tent. A woman asks the grandmother what she will do when the war is over.

Our grandmother looked away from her and spoke – There is nothing. No home.

However, the narrator, still a child, is more optimistic. She hopes to find her grandfather and then her mother and father. "They'll be home and I'll remember them."

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The story is about a girl who is about nine or ten years old.  She lives in a village situated along the South Africa and Mozambique village.  She lives in the latter and her village is being subjected to bands of marauding bandits and hoodlums that are going through villages, destabilizing villagers, and seeking to bring chaos to the Mozambique government.  One night, the girl's mother goes to the store, and disappears.  Her father has already disappeared.  Her grandparents decide to take her and her brother across the border to a refugee camp, away from the village and the bandits who are causing such mayhem (We do learn from the girl's inferences that the villagers are being supported by the South African government, in an attempt to undermine the Mozambique government.)  Their trek to the camp has them go through a South African game park, which foreigner flock to as "the ultimate safari."  Dodging both the bullets of the foreigners and the game present, the girl and her grandparents scour for food, struggle to live, and wind up at the camp.  The story is about this voyage, and the painful condition of life that human beings are forced to endure when placed in dire political and social predicaments of unrest.

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