A dead and half plucked Pel’s Fishing Owl hangs silently in the heat of the traditional healers market in Warwick triangle in the center of Durban. Even in death it carries the regal air of a superior presence, and it remains top of the list of any ornithologists must see birds. People travel from all over the world to get this spectacular Owl onto their life list, but no birder ever wants to see one dead.
These Owls are best seen along the well wooded rivers of Southern Africa, and according to the Roberts Bird App, there are only three pairs of these ‘whispering death’ fishers along 4.8km of River in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Other pairs are scattered through the Okavango Swamps of Botswana, along the Zambezi and through the Kruger National Park – but only 3 known pairs in KZN.
How does a seventh dead one find its way into these markets?
Sadly, the owl is not alone. On this Saturday morning I see countless wild animals including three honey badger hides and a handful of Pangolin scales. This shy and friendly animal is more persecuted by poaching than even the Rhino, and I struggle to make sense of it all amid the emotions of sadness infused with anger.
I have never seen a pangolin alive in the wild, yet I have seen one dead in the markets.
Why, with modern medicine is there a need for this outdated belief system?
I have asked this question many times, and only recently did a phrase gifted to me by a colleague and friend stick in my mind long enough to be toyed with:
“Ukushaya ngezinduku ezimbili.”
Fighting with two sticks.
There is a mixture of old culture and modern medicine at play here, and some distrust and skepticism exists at both ends of the spectrum. Stories and cures have been handed down from generation to generation and some may well have become lost in the smoky haze of fireside translation. Equally the corporate greed of some of the modern medicine makers make these remedies out of reach for so many of the sick and the dying, and anger festers in an unhealable wound. In the middle of this dichotomy exists a market of duality and when desperate people are in need of healing, they can cocoon into the comfort of cultural cures, or move mindfully into modern medicine.
They can fight with two sticks.
In the martial art of stick fighting, two sticks are used. The ‘Isiquili’ is the attacking stick and the ‘Uboko’ is the one used for defence.
A young fighter was left hopelessly vulnerable with only one stick, and for the first time something struck a chord in my own consciousness.
When I only have one single version of the truth I am fighting with one stick.
With that stick I try to beat the pictures in my mind into submission. Pictures of superiority versus inferiority and pictures of a finite, linear world. I use my single stick to carve out silos of us being separate and disconnected, and if that is the only stick I have, I will drum it hard to produce power to get things done.
With only one stick, it is highly likely that I will see the world as a very hostile and unfriendly place.
But if I pick up another stick I can hold two conflicting viewpoints in my armoury. I can attack and defend.
No boxer ever won for too long in his career on all out attack, and even the great Muhammed Ali had to learn how to absorb a few punches and avoid as many in defence as he could land in attack. Great rugby teams can do both, and they can turn one to the other in a snap moment of the bounce of an odd shaped ball.
Even Michael “Whispering Death” Holding himself, the great West Indian fast bowler, had more than one variety of delivery. Arguably the fastest bowler the world has ever seen, he would approach the crease with such fluidity and in complete silence, that the umpires couldn’t hear him coming. Perhaps like the Pel’s Fishing Owl he had extra feathers on his flight feathers to reduce turbulence and therefore sound. From there he could unleash a bouncer clocked at 156km/h or produce a slow ball which had the batsman playing his shot almost before he had taken guard.
Not easy to bat against a bowler who has two sticks.
Imagine facing Shane Warne who had all six known variations of leg spin, and could bowl them all with differing flight and speed. That is a whole quiver full of different sticks. No surprise he took a few of those in his time.
Michael Holding might not have been the best batsman around, but according to Wikipedia, he made a quarter of all his test runs in sixes and he still holds the highest tenth wicket partnership in an ODI during an unbroken stand of 106 with none other than the great Viv Richards. Now there’s another example of the twin sticks of elegance and brute force.
And no helmet.
But back to the point. Or points?
Perhaps what I need to do is not so much to go out and look for new sticks, but rather to polish the ones I may already have?
Could I re-examine the pictures I hold in my head to see another side? That there may be many versions of the truth, and that life could be infinite at times? Might we be infinitely connected as opposed to separate and disconnected, and when I smile and someone smiles back, is that not evidence of the possibility of a friendly world?
Could we really embrace and celebrate our uniqueness instead of being mired in constant competition?
If you have ever been to Mahatma Gandhi’s house in Inanda, KZN, that hotbed and melting pot of political thought and Leadership, you will have seen a reference to what he referred to as “7 deadly Sins.”
- “Wealth without Work
- Pleasure without Conscience
- Knowledge without Character
- Commerce without Morality
- Science without Humanity
- Religion without Sacrifice
- Politics without Principle.”
Perhaps the world has tried to fight for too long armed only with the left hand sticks?
Baltes and Staudinger (2000), postulate that one of the five components of wisdom is the ability to hold different contexts of ambiguity in uncertainty.
I think that is called fighting with two sticks, and the wisdom to know when to use which.
Of course, I still far prefer to see a Pel’s Fishing Owl in full flight, and not hanging half plucked with a dead eyed stare from the rafters of a tin stall, but maybe I’m learning to live a little more comfortably in the discomfort of conflicting viewpoints.
There had been a deluge of rain in KZN in the fortnight before our arrival for a Leading with Humanity week, and as a result there was an abundance of mud.
We learned through experience, that when you have only one set of wheels turning, your vehicle eventually nestles up to its chassis and becomes immovable in a hole of its own making. Sometimes we do exactly the same, and spinning the wheels of the same old tired story doesn’t get us anywhere except more entrenched in the perceived succor of the place we were before.
I guess if you stick with one stick, you get stuck.
And we can’t afford to remain stuck for too long in a fast changing world.
“If all you ever have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Abraham Maslow”
(Although the source of that quote remains ambiguous even of itself.)