My South Africa
Published: October 10, 2016

Sharanjeet Shan and her four-year-old granddaughter bond over garden adventures with meerkats. This article appeared in the FlyMango inflight magazine.

There are large rocks in my garden, surrounded by 32 different trees and plants – mostly indigenous. How I love to take rock-walks through the garden with my African-Punjabi granddaughter.

We jump from rock to rock and greet the bottlebrush, butterfly bushes, camellias and the loquat tree, finally coming to rest with geraniums and the fan plant. We take one big fan-plant leaf and pretend it’s an umbrella sheltering us from the midsummer sun. Pandina insists that we can’t go near the strelitzia as I once told her that it is a bird of paradise. She is only four years old.

Pomegranates are large and full of juicy, red, fleshy seeds – we sit under the big loquat tree and eat them to our heart’s delight, getting red lips and red hands in the process. Learning to balance on a rock is very challenging for a 4-year-old and a 65-year- old alike.

Cheese for the meerkats! screams Pandina with delight, as a meerkat emerges from its burrow behind one of the rocks. With their long, slender, streamlined bodies – perfect for slipping in and out of the tiniest cracks in the rocks – meerkats can be spotted everywhere in the south of Johannesburg. Of course, they also live in the Kalahari Desert, standing erect every so often, shaking their heads to the left and then to the right in a kind of jerky movement, as if they were watching tennis.

Although the meerkats look very delicate, they can dig at an incredible speed. Try as hard as I may, I cannot figure out how many strokes a minute the meerkat is doing as she brings up breakfast of juicy larvae, large ants or even a snake or two. Many of the meerkats seem to enjoy cheese and don’t bother with digging and hunting. Some can be very strategic, taking a small piece of cheese at first and then dropping it as soon as they see a bigger piece – even snatching it from the mouths of others.

Chasing little creatures and lizards of all shapes and colours and scrambling in and out of rocks, meerkats always seem very busy creatures. Their children are forever jumping and bouncing, playfully biting each other, curling up and darting around. The mother meerkat sprawls out on top of the largest rock, dozing. Every so often, she opens one eye to check on her gang of monsters making mischief.

One year, builders left fine sand by the garage door. The meerkats loved to roll around in the sand and then shake their tiny bodies. Perhaps it helped to scratch any weeds or bugs trapped in their fur; maybe it had a cooling effect.

Our neighbour’s cat was extremely aggressive and saw everything that moved as food. A baby meerkat got stuck in the fence when a piece of sharp, thin wire tangled around its toes and leg. As it struggled to get free, the leg snapped at a joint. But I was determined to let it loose, very fearful that the meerkat might die. A few days later it emerged from the burrow, healed up and hopping on one leg, occasionally losing its balance.

Yes, this is my Africa – wild and wondrous, beautiful and dangerous, devious and delightful all at the same time.



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