Saturday, October 10, 2009

Post-Sript: Durban

Friday, October 09, 2009 

We have officially wrapped Episode One. The entire crew, happy and exhausted, is now in Durban for our last night in South Africa. Durban is the second largest city in the country (after Jo’Burg and before Cape Town), and likely suffers from middle child syndrome. It shares neither the history nor the political heft of Johannesburg, nor the classy, exotic culture of the Cape. So it’s a younger city in search of itself, and I think the search is still on.

My first impression of Durban is that of a South African Dubai – minus the Arabs. It’s a resort town, right on the beach, boasting miles of oceanfront five-star hotels and bars. A playground for the fabulously wealthy, Durban is a Disney-fied destination hotspot. The palm trees look too perfect to be real. The streets are so clean it’s actually kind of creepy. Then again I’ve heard New Yorkers say the same thing of Toronto. The overall feeling is that of a very young, very wealthy coastal town.

After speaking with some of the locals, however, I learn that further inland there is a lot of old money, most of it British and Dutch. This makes sense. It speaks to another chapter of South Africa’s history – that of the Boers, the wars, the diamonds and the oil.  

But as my buddy Bryan and I cool our heels at the hotel’s patio we see no evidence of that legacy. Instead we watch a parade of flight attendants from the United Arab Emirates descend from their tour bus (so I was wrong about the Arabs). They are all dressed alike, striking in their semi-burkas; the overall feeling being The Stepford wives of South Africa. Not to mention the Aston Mini parked in front of the hotel lobby sporting a giant advert for Hooters. It’s surreal.

I have a hunch the culture shock starts here. Toronto will be easy; I’ve done that gig. But coming from the Zulus and the Sangomas; from the rural homesteads and the vast, broad Velts of wildlife… Durban feels like another planet.

No matter. Tonight we will celebrate the end of the beginning. Episode One. Nine more to go.

Over the next year we will travel to New Mexico to spend time with the Navajo; to Peru to be with the Inca; to Fiji for the Sea Gypsies; as well as Malaysia, Borneo, and New Guinea. We still have two episodes to fill. This may sound like a problem (if I have my way these two spots will be New Zealand to be with the Maori and, finally, Madagascar).

But as I sit here in cool coastal Durban, still filled with the swirling music and images of South Africa, I know it’s a good problem to have.


The Big 3.5


Thursday, October 08, 2009

For our last day of filming I booked a visit to South Africa’s oldest and largest Big Game Park, Kruger National. At 900,000 square hectares, I’m not going to dispute that claim. The official reason for being here is to collect images of the ‘real’ Africa. A way to assure the viewers at home: yes, we were actually here, and here’s the proof - lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Of the so-called Big Five we managed to capture (on film! Not, you know… never mind) Buffalo, White Rhino, Elephant, and something that might have been a Leopard. We’re still not sure. No sign of a Lion. As a Leo myself, I’m okay with that. Something about preserving the mystery.

So: a solid three-and-a-half out of five. Pas mal, pas mal. More significant, we had full exposure (no pun intended) to the many Zebra, Giraffe and Monkeys of the area. Monkeys!!! I could watch for hours. Yes, I know it’s a cliché: ‘wow, they’re so… like us!’ But spend an hour with a family of Baboons, and if you’re still bored I will buy you a banana myself. I’ll buy a whole bunch.

I won’t write too much of a journal entry here. The images speak (or squawk or screech) for themselves. 





The Power...

Wednesday  October 7 2009

This afternoon I took a small crew up the coast, to St. Lucia, to film a local choir rehearsal. Suffice to say whatever assumptions I had about church choirs were quickly challenged. I learned about the choir from our driver and translator, the wonderful Herman: his son and wife are both members.


We arrive at Herman’s homestead in St. Lucia, just an hour’s drive from the Lodge, and walk literally down the garden path to discover a narrow wooden shed behind the house. From inside the shed I can hear the unmistakable sound of human voices locked in a sweet and powerful major chord. I don’t understand the language. But I know they are singing about God.

Not wishing to interrupt, I wait until the song is over. Herman knocks on the shed and immediately seven singers emerge, four male and three female, each wearing traditional tunics and black trousers. Herman introduces me to the singers and right away I can tell they are nervous: this is the first time in South Africa I have not received full eye contact and a warm embrace. I like to think it has nothing to do with me personally. But I can’t be too sure.

I learn, later, the choir has never been filmed, not even a snapshot or still photography. And they most certainly have never been recorded. So I am both humbled and overwhelmed by their generosity, and courage, for letting us into their world and sharing their music. In this, and other things, it is best to approach with humility and grace.

Sound and music guru Bryan Potvin (Northern Pikes!) decides there is too much wind to record outside as originally planned. Better to film in the controlled environment of the woodshed. Which is good, musically speaking. But it’s a shame, visually, because at this very moment a low-hanging sun is casting a gorgeous and warm light over the landscape.

So Bryan gets to work setting up his gazillion-dollar microphones in the woodshed and Eric, our cameraman, begins to strap all 35 pounds of his Steadicam gear to his body. He looks like a Stormtrooper; which may not be a good thing in front of seven already skittish South African singers (Eric used to be a cop, and it shows).

But the choir isn’t paying any attention to the tech set-up. They’re quietly warming up, off to one side, perhaps to help calm their nerves. I realize the longer the guys take setting up, the more nervous the singers are likely to become. So I ask Herman to translate: tell them to come back outside, while the sun is still out, and ask them to ‘warm up’ in full voice.

What a change. Suddenly the leader of the choir sings out in perfect English:

‘The POWER!!!...’

and he is answered by the others:

‘The POWER… of Jesus’ Love…’ 

The shyness, or what passed for shyness, vanishes. The choir launches into an old spiritual, loud and clear, call and response; true gospel. The hymn rises to a crescendo and holds on the final chord for full ten seconds. Then silence.

Bryan pokes his head out of the shed, stunned by the last two-and-a-half minutes: what WAS that? I applaud, of course, wildly and enthusiastically, slamming my palms together. Holy Moley, Boney Maroney. My hand-clapping just might have frightened them all over again, since as a church choir they are not used to ‘applause’ as you and I know it. They are singing for their God.

But that doesn’t stop me from hooting and clapping. ‘Again!’ I say in spite of myself, almost laughing, ‘another one!’ Well, now. The ice has broken. All seven singers are smiling, making full eye contact; laughing at my laughter.

They begin to sing another hymn, this one a Zulu spiritual, just as lovely. Bryan is still checking levels in the woodshed, but Eric is now fully loaded and waiting with his camera… Ah… just do it! I ask Eric to start rolling on this ‘warm-up’ in the sun. Even though we are officially filming the sequence in the woodshed, it seems ridiculous not to capture this. Even if we never use it.

So Eric pans along the singers, bobbing his camera gently across their faces, their hands; their swaying bodies. Not once do they look into the camera, and I can’t TELL you how thrilled I am about that (try filming professional singers in North America and you’ll see just how many takes are ruined by bunny-in-the-headlights).  

The Zulu spiritual is accompanied by choreographed moves, simple but powerful gestures, so Eric pulls back for a wide master shot of the entire group, moving as one. 

The hymn comes to an end. I applaud again, louder this time, and now I know we’re ready to film the ‘real’ rehearsal inside. There is a glimmer in Bryan’s eye as he moves to his mixing board. He knows he’s about to capture something special. 


The singing I heard today is still with me, hours later. It strikes me that 99% of the music I’ve heard since arriving in South Africa has all been in a major key. In plain terms, it’s all ‘happy’ music. Even the songs and hymns one hears at funerals, all across Kwa-Zulu Natal… they’re all in major keys. They’re not cheerful by any means…but they’re certainly not the funeral dirges you hear in most of the Western world.    

You can hear a South African funeral hymn in the opening 16 bars of Peter Gabriel’s song ‘Biko’ (about the eponymous black man who was murdered by white policeman in Port Elizabeth in 1977). Wailing, crying, singing, sure… but it’s in a major key.

More interestingly, most of the music in South Africa follows the traditional 1, 4, 5 structure you hear in today’s popular music. It’s the foundation of pretty much every rock and roll song ever written! Start on the root, or tonic note – C Major. Then go to the perfect fourth – F major. Then back to the root. From there go to the major fifth – G major, then the F again, and finish back on the root – C major.

That’s it. Three chords. The basis of all rock, blues, and soul. When Bob Dylan famously said ‘all I need is three chords and the truth,’ that’s what he was talking about. Clever Bobby Zimmerman! Listen to ‘Blowin in the Wind.’ One, four, five. But it started well before him. Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger...

...Buddy Holly.

I get a chill thinking about it; writing about it even now. Because when people talk about the ‘roots’ of Rock ‘N Roll they’re usually referring to a specific time in American music history – namely, the Mississippi delta blues, the birth of Bluegrass, deep in the American South.

But that music had to come from somewhere. It was brought over by the slaves of wealthy American landowners and sharecroppers. Brought over, of course, from Africa.

A kind of circle has just been completed for me. The root of popular music, brought to America, from Africa. I suppose I already knew this, intellectually. But to bear witness to it, to hear the actual roots, live, in Africa...  Chills. Of course many of these musical traditions stayed in Africa, and perhaps they evolved a bit. But not by much.


After we film the rehearsal, Bryan lets each member of the choir listen to the results on his AWESOME Bose headphones. And this moment, the looks on their faces as they hear themselves back for the first time their lives… This is the highlight of my trip to South Africa.

The wedding was fun. The helicopter was exciting. The scenery was and is still breathtaking. But this purely human moment, of pure human joy in each of the singers’ faces… they whoop and they holler, they high-five and they weep for joy. They simply cannot believe their ears.

We’ve wrapped for the night, and it’s dark now. But we stay for another hour, passing the earphones back and forth; reliving the musical moment until it’s time for bed.    

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The knocking at my cabin door yanks me out of a deep sleep. I hear the voice of our pilot, Chris: ‘we’re good to go, mate.’

It’s four in the morning. And it’s time to fly. 

The night before we’d made a plan. Chris was to wake before sunrise and check the sky. If it was clear, and star-filled, myself and the crew would join him on the airfield to prepare the Jet Ranger helicopter for ‘first light.’

If it was clouded over we’d wait another 2 hours and film in ‘regular light.’ This second option gave us the luxury of a sleep-in, but the results would not b nearly as stunning to look at.  The knock on my door at four a.m. gives me the answer. I roll out of bed and swat the coffee maker. First light it is.

On my way out I spot something in the corner of my cabin:  a multi-coloured moth about the size of my fist. I take this to be a good omen.

It’s a short drive to the airstrip at Hluhluew (pronounced ‘Shlu-shlu-ee) and the orange sun is just emerging on the landscape. Now it’s a race to prep the helicopter in time to catch first light. We strap two cameras to the outside of the small chopper – one facing forward, the other pointing straight down under the belly of the cockpit.

Next up we take all four doors off the chopper – standard practice for aerial filming, but not something I’ve done before. I prefer to fly without the whole ‘doors optional’ thing going on.

No matter – I trust Chris and his team implicitly. Plus I’ve got the moth on my side. My two shooters, Peter and Andrew, are seated in the back of the chopper, strapped in six  ways til Sunday. I’m in the front passenger seat, and I too am shooting today: both stills photography and a small HD handheld camera. So that’s five cameras on one chopper. I think we’ll get a shot or two we can use.

The sun is getting higher, faster. After a safety briefing we’re up and away, floating above the South African treescape; flying towards the sun. Supply your own Icarus joke.

At 28 years old Chris is already a seasoned pilot. He’s flown in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) for three years, taking passengers in and out of the blood diamond trade. He also knows his way around mountains. He’s been shot at and he’s flown through hailstorms, freezing rain and high winds. If we make our day with time to spare, he’s promised to show us some ‘tricks.’

Yeah. I know. Um…Tricks?

We fly up and over the hilltops, then swoop down into the valleys, then back up again. We crest the top of most hills by about 50 feet, sometimes closer, and the view is spectacular. Zulu children run out of their homesteads, still carrying bits of breakfast in their hands, and they wave to us. We wave back and give thumbs up.

Chris is able to float down the side of the mountain sideways, giving our shooters a clear frame. He hovers, he doubles back; he repeats the move on the other side. After four passes of the Zulu homesteads it’s time to film some wildlife.

I experience a moment ‘tv producer’ fun. Chris is basically asking me what I’d like filmed, and how I’d like it. Fast? Slow? Head for that homestead over there? Pull up at the last second? Traveling wide shot, following the river?  

It’s difficult to keep cool. I’m like the kid at the fairway who can’t get enough of the Tilt-a-whirl. ‘Can we go over there?’ I ask. Boom, it’s done. ‘How about that mountain, with the sun at our backs?’ Chris nods, and it’s done. 

 As a favour to our host Anton I’ve also got a Canon strapped around my neck: I’ve promised to take still photographs of the lodge. Photographs taken from the sky. Where I am. Without a door.  

According to South African law it is illegal to fly directly over the Big Game parks. Fair enough. But there’s nothing preventing us from flying right on the bordered fence of Kruger National Park, and pointing our cameras towards the creatures. This morning it seems to be quiet until we crest another hill. Without shifting his gaze Chris says ‘Ten o’clock.’

We look ahead and to the left. Three giraffes. Further along, wildebeests. And then? White Rhino, moving faster than both the giraffes and wildebeests. Impressive.

And now it’s time for ‘tricks.’ Away from the parkland, and over a stretch of pineapple farms, Chris veers hard left then pulls back on the stick. My stomach lurches but I remember to focus my gaze on a point on the horizon. A second later we are flying in the exact opposite direction, and I’m not sure how. Chris repeats the move, only this time he drops 100 feet in the time it takes me to type the words ‘Acid Reflux.’

We veer a hard right, pull back, and now we are facing the sun. This time there is nothing for me to focus on, so I focus on keeping my breakfast down.

 We’ve been airborne for an hour. With four passengers in our ‘light’ aircraft, it’s time to head back to Hluhluew air field as our gas is diminishing. We touch down, giddy and alive and awake. The solid earth seems more wobbly than the chopper now, as if we’ve just stepped off an extended roller coaster ride.

I look at my watch – it’s 6:45. Back at the lodge the rest of the crew is just waking up now. I know I should sneak a nap in at some point today, and I suggest the crew do the same. But who am I kidding? I know that as soon as we reach base camp, Andrew, Peter and I will flip the cameras to ‘playback’ and we’ll watch the sky-high footage before breakfast. All five cameras-worth. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kaya's Zulu Wedding

Monday October 5, 2009

‘Morning, Drew. How was your week-end?’

‘Fine, good… You?’

Monday morning. Back to work at the office.

The wedding of Kaya and his bride did not disappoint despite my high expectations. As the outdoor ceremony progressed, complete with stick-fighting, impromptu dancing and call-and-response singing from the bride’s family to the groom’s; more and more wedding guests appeared as if from the woodwork – suddenly the field was full, over 500 hundred guests. 500 faces filled with joy and abandon.

And our job is to capture and document the proceedings from the ground. But the nature of this job requires us to be active participants – not outside observers, nor mere archivists. Which is a good thing.  I never liked the idea of shooting wedding videos in the first place.

Before I arrived in South Africa I wondered if our role here would get in the way of truly experiencing the events. In other words, I was concerned that the imperative to ‘get it all’ on film would in fact distance us from what we are actually ‘getting.’ The process of filming can’t help but mediate and compromise real events, right?

But the Zulu  (in fact all South Africans) are so unselfconscious around the camera; they simply go about their business of living ‘fully, completely’ that we frequently forget we are filming. We have been welcomed as true guests and we will leave as friends. A very different kind of hospitality, and generosity of spirit. It makes our ‘job’ so much easier. We don’t have to convince, cajole or plead with anyone.

More important: we don’t have to stage anything, fake events or manipulate human emotion. Thank God. ‘Real’ Reality Television.

Before I arrived in South Africa I had list of things I wanted to do, see or experience during my stay. I’m a list guy; I can’t help it. They were, in no particular order:

1)    Swim in the Indian Ocean

2)    Touch an elephant (or at least see one)

3)    Attend a religious ceremony

4)    Listen to a real choir

5)    Sleep under the stars

Hmm… So: how am I doing?

1) Our last night will be spent on the coast, in a town called Durban. And since we don’t fly home until late afternoon… I think I’ll get my chance to break out the swim trunks. Check.

2) This morning we are filming in one of the big game parks complete with (you guessed it) the Big Five: Rhino, Buffalo, Leopard, Lion and… Heffalump. The local authorities advise me not to attempt any physical contact, however. Dumbo is a bit bigger than me, and Africa is no petting zoo. Semi-check.

3) Saturday’s Zulu wedding. Check.   

4) This afternoon Bryan and I are taking a camera crew to St. Lucia to film a Zulu choir as they rehearse for various church venues. I’ve listened to recordings of similar choirs – a mixture of straight up gospel and more ‘tribal’ rhythms – but I have no idea what it will actually look like. Stay tuned for photos. Check.  

5) Sleeping under the stars.  Local authorities – the same ones who warned me about getting up close and personal with Heffalumps – warned me about this. Sleeping under the stars in this region of Africa is about as safe as… high-fiving an elephant. So THAT’S out.

Okay four out of five ain’t bad.

Upon inspection this list looks kind of… tourist-y. I have a feeling the most memorable, most profound experiences will also be the most unexpected and spontaneous moments.   

Like this Zulu woman who stopped to smile at me.

Or other moments still to come… like the FREAKING HELICOPTER I’ll be riding in tomorrow morning at sunrise. Yup, I’ll be riding shotgun in a ‘Jet Ranger,’ the doors blown off; sweeping over the African landscape for an hour and half.  

On a more practical level... I need to do laundry (which is, mercifully, an option here). In the meantime I've been reduced to wearing the very last set of clean clothes in my suitcase. Typical African Safari gear, sure; but I look ridiculous. In fact, set against the Land rover like this I look like I'm straight out of central casting - like I got kicked off the set of some cheesy 70's tv show: 'Safari, Wow!'

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday October 2, 2009

Full rains today, and last night. Our first ‘official’ shoot today, and shoot we do, rain or shine.

This morning my run concluded with a new gift. Rounding the second corner, further from the lodge, I looked to my left and…

I met a giraffe. Wow. Just standing there, quite close; unafraid. It’s remarkable when you think how many things are burned into our consciousness from TV and film and photographs: we assume we know what a giraffe looks like. But until you see one in their natural habitat…

I mean there's always something slightly ridiculous about giraffes in photographs, right? The impossibly long neck, like a Darwinian prank of nature. But to see one in the flesh (fur?) This giraffe was graceful, like a dancer. She moved slowly, with purpose. And a little bit of curiosity. Incredible, but not ridiculous.

(now if you want ridiculous count on the Warthog - photo attached - needs no explanation really).

After my run-in with the giraffe I cursed myself for not having my camera; at least initially. Upon reflection I now think… Ah, well. No need to document every single ‘moment.

Another perk of this gig is that our sound and music guy just happens to be Bryan Potvin – otherwise known as lead guitarist for the band The Northern Pikes. So the cool factor just went through the roof on this show. For those of you who don’t remember the band, just know that not all music from the 80’s sucked.

Needless to say Bryan and I get along famously; talking music, of course, but many other things as well. It’s his first time in Africa too, and we share a similar perspective on the whole experience. He joined me on my run this morning, and we marveled at the giraffe in silent appreciation for a full five minutes.  

Either that or we just needed to rest.

Yesterday, while visiting the Zulu homesteads, Bryan took off his jacket to show them the impressive tattoo on his arm. Without skipping a beat the Zulu returned the favour – they showed us their ‘tattoos’ - small scars along their arms, abdomens and, occasionally, the face. 

Scarification is part of the ritual of becoming a man in Zulu culture – a rite of passage from boyhood to adulthood. Not to be confused with the so-called ‘mutilations’ one hears about in the media, these tiny incisions are delicate, artful; likely no more painful than a tetanus shot or a vaccination. And most young Zulu boys can’t wait for the day of their scarification. The day he becomes, in the eyes of his community and in the spirit of his ancestors, a man. 

And Western folks may criticize such practices, but here is where it helps to take a step back and look at the big picture. Many of our practices and customs would seem cruel and unusual when shot through the Zulu prism. Day care, for one. Tell the Zulu that we leave our children with strangers – non-family – for even a few hours and they would be horrified. I believe the term is cultural relativism.


                                                                                                              Here’s some great late-night reading: TRUE VIPERS. 

It sounds like an African crime novel – pulp fiction for the Safari – TRUE VIPER CRIMES! Turns out one of Anton’s employees, Johnny, is also a snake handler. I saw this book at breakfast and knew right away it would shoot to the top of my reading list. It’s a mistake to read it right before bed, however. As I discovered. I wasn’t surprised to read about the deadly Puff Adders – these snakes kill you almost instantly; blood comes out your eyes and other orifices; it’s truly awful – I was prepared for that.

But there are other snakes that kill you slowly. Very slowly. Isn’t that a comfort? Three months after the initial bite, which may hurt only as much as a bee sting, your liver starts to collapse. And then your kidneys. Now THERE’s a Darwinian prank all right.    

Last night we were invited to the ‘rehearsal’ for Saturday’s wedding.  I can say with confidence it was unlike any other wedding rehearsal I have witnessed. The dancing. The singing. The music.

The sacrificial slaughter of a cow.

I dared Bryan to ask the groom’s father how he planned to pay for the festivities. Bryan declined.

Although it was 2 hours late, and even though it was raining, none of that mattered as soon as the music started. I watched the entire wedding party enter one of the homesteads and begin to practice their moves, all set to music they created themselves. 

The joy in their faces and bodies, the rhythm; the music itself was ridiculously contagious. Impossible to keep yourself from clapping, tapping, swaying. It is no wonder that when Paul Simon traveled to this exact spot,   he heard something magical in the music that inspired his next creative streak. The result was ‘Graceland,’ an album featuring local musicians Ladysmith Black Mombazo. That was over 20 years ago. But just last night I heard the familiar beats and sounds of that album in the music being made by Kaya and his bride-to-be; and their extended family.

And that was just the rehearsal.

Tonight will no doubt be a treat. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Healing and Protection

So I have been in South Africa for four full days now. The first three days I was practically solo – just myself and production coordinator Andrew Sheppard. Yesterday the rest of the film crew arrived, bleary-eyed and jet-lagged and happy to be on solid ground after 30 hours of straight traveling.

We are now 8 in total.  It feels good to have everyone together. It’s like the first day of camp, as we move in to our cabins, set up our gear and gather at the main lodge for meals and meetings and such. No doubt we will be singing ‘Oh they BUILT the ship Ti-TAN-ic, to SAIL the ocean BLUE....’ in no time.

But where are we, exactly? We are on the Eastern coast of South Africa, right on the Indian Ocean, about 150 miles north of Durban. It is also Zulu land, which is WHY I am here (more on this later).

The lodge itself is juts against the ocean and wetlands on the one side… but mostly we are in the thick of parkland.

And I do not mean parks with swing sets and playgrounds. We’re talking Provincial or State-sized parks, like Algonquin or Banff or Yosemite. These are big game parks, and most of them carry what is known locally as ‘the Big Five.’ Quick, can you name the big five?

Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo (you can be forgiven if, after a list like this, you find yourself humming ‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’)

So far I have not personally seen any of the Big Five, and I’m okay with that. I will get the opportunity to become better acquainted with the B5 at the end of the shoot, since Anton our cheerful host (more on him later) has planned a proper Safari for the crew.

Our neighbors to the south have several giraffes, however. As pets. Which leads me to wonder: do the giraffes have names? Why am I thinking about ‘Rusty’ and ‘Jerome’ from The Friendly Giant?

I HAVE seen warthogs, antelopes, impalas (not the Chevrolet variety), several species of birds, bugs, critters, a moth the size of my fist and – best of all – monkeys. Yes, monkeys. You see the neighbors to the north own an enormous pineapple farm. And if you were a monkey, where would YOU go for breakfast? Exactly.

So my first morning here (technically, 11pm Toronto time) I wanted to shake off the jet lag by going for an early morning run.  No need to set the alarm - the chorus of squawks and chirps outside my door was incentive enough to get out of bed.  I throw on the sneakers, head past the lodge gate, round the corner and—

Monkeys. Munching. Busted! They look up, surprised to see me (so it’s mutual) and they scram and they scurry; caught literally red-handed with their paws in the pineapple patch! And yet I’m the one who feels guilty for intruding.  ‘Sorry fellas… as you were. Say, you done with that?’ 

Our host Anton is a robust Afrikaaner straight out central casting: no-nonsense demeanor, fabulous accent, and countless stories. He’s originally from Zimbabwe, and so it’s clear that some stories he’d rather forget. He was also in the South African military, before, during and after 1994. In other words, when blacks got the vote and Mandela was freed from 27 years in prison.

So, yes, he’s got stories.

‘Chaos,’ he says, and leaves it at that.

Anton also talks brightly about his days as an anti-poacher policeman. He’d go out into the bush, for weeks on end, binoculars and handcuffs in tow, and hunt for hunters - illegal hunters. When caught, he’d cuff the offending poacher, take him to a command post and wait for the REAL police to show up. 

‘Bist job I ivah hid,’ says Anton, ‘fifteen thousand dollirs a week.’

A word or two about the series I am directing/producing. For the sake of non-disclosure and intellectual property laws I can’t go into too much detail, but I doubt the lawyers will barge down my door if I share with you the title of the series: ‘Vanishing World.’

It’s an up close and personal look at various cultures around the planet; their traditions and rituals. But rather than being a National Geographic-type travelogue, we are not mere observers. We are active participants in… well, in everything.

Yesterday I spent the day meeting many wonderful local Zulu, including a shaman figure known as Sangoma. The Sangoma are a deeply spiritual people who are ‘called’ to be healers.  Steeped in tradition, they are connected to the spirit of their ancestors. They also practice herbal medicine, throwing of bones, divination, etc.

It was, to say the least, a very powerful experience.

I also met a Zulu groom-to-be named Kaya, and we are invited to his wedding ceremony this week-end, complete with traditional garb, singing, dancing, stick-fighting (nobody gets hurt… at least not intentionally)… and home made beer. Ah, yes. Canadian to the core, our crew is very much looking forward to the wedding. 

So I emerge from the day, thinking mostly about the Sangoma. ‘What needs healing?’ the Sangoma might ask. ‘What needs protection?

These are good questions.  Not limited to the physical world of pain, or material things like protecting ones’ house and home. But emotional considerations, spiritual questions.

What needs healing? What needs protection?

Healing the past. Protecting the future.

Even here in Africa, working on a documentary about different cultures and disappearing traditions; here, where a KFC or McDonalds just might get built on top of the ancient burial grounds of Zulu warriors: What needs healing? What needs protection?