The local people here believe that if you get bitten by a Cobra the only thing that will save your life is The Black Stone.
“What is this Black Stone?” I asked Isaac and Herbert.
“It was given the name because a Blacksmith first used it,“ said Herbert as he shoveled in another mouth food of pochu (dumpling made of maize flour).
“Seriously does it work, sounds like witchcraft to me,” I said dismissively.
“Naaaa! It works,” insisted Isaac. “The stone pulls out the venom. I don’t know how, but it has a property that reacts to whatever is in the poison. I have seen it used to save someone.”
“Perhaps the snake bite wasn’t poisonous,” I challenged.
“It waaas! Seriously it works,” Isaac persisted. Isaac put his fork down and tried to convince me these methods are based on tried and tested methods used for centuries.
This morning Moses and I walked three kilometre transect lines in W21 back and forth. As we were retracing out steps back along Line 1, I was moaning how disappointing it was that we hadn’t seen any primates, animal faeces or anything else of interest to record. We were just returning to the start of the line when Moses, who was slightly ahead of me, took a sharp in-take of breath and jumped back so quickly he almost landed on top of me. He froze but I could hear his heart racing and his breath quicken.
I followed where his gaze had stopped and there to our left was the biggest Cobra I have ever seen. It must have been about 7 foot in length. The colour had drained from Moses’ his face. Most Africans are petrified of snakes, especially Cobras. We watched as it wriggled quickly across the top of sapling branches and dropped with a thud to the foot of a very large tree. There, it hoisted itself up and over the three-foot buttress to reveal its true glory. It must have been double the thickness of a garden hose. The shiny ebony skin glistened as the sunlight caught it’s body. I watched in fear and amazement as the body seemed to take forever to disappear.
“OH MY GAAWD!! Did you see the size of that thing?” I shrieked.
“Very baad snake. Very dangerous,” said Moses in a low quivering voice, barely audible.
“How long should we wait?” My excitement, now turned to apprehension.
“It’s ok, it’s gone”, said Moses his eyes fixed ahead staring into space. “Twende” (let’s go).
We both had to climb over the same buttress the snake had eased itself over in order to make it out of the forest. I have to say I was crapping it, because on the other side of the tree lay fairly long grass and I was convinced the snake might be lying in wait for a repeat appearance. I struggled to lift my legs over, trembling ever so slightly, thinking what had just passed over this very spot seconds before us.
Once we hit the main line back to camp we picked up speed and hiked back in single file.
“What do you know about the Black Stone?” I said jogging after Moses.
He smiled, “It works,” he said, turning to look at me. His eyes were dead serious.
“Where can you get it?”
“I dunno, maybe in a village somewhere,” he said. “If you get bitten by a Cobra you can’t move, you know, you just stop. The stone helps.”
He added as an after-thought: “Does your first aid kit have antidote?”
“Mine?” I said surprised. “Noooo….it might have a couple of wet wipes and some plasters, but no antidote. I have an Epi-pen but it’s back at camp. Even then, that’s only to give you a boost of adrenaline so you can make the journey back to camp. You’d still need to be taken to hospital and see a proper doctor.”
I made a mental note to myself to make sure I packed the Epi-pen in my rucksack as soon as we got back.
I’m seeing a lot of snakes at the moment. Not sure whether it’s because the temperature is fluctuating, but our encounter has made Moses super jumpy. As we turned right to go under the usual low hanging branch that hovers over the path back to camp, Moses ducked and turned around to face the hollow on the other side. Last week I swear I saw a snake curled up in there. He looked about his feet and immediately started hacking away at dead wood with his machete.
“What are you doing?”
“That snake frightened me. This whole is no good,” he said stuffing it furiously with wood and soil and anything else he could lay his hands on. “I don’t want to see more snakes.”
Moses is a man of few words, but his body language speaks volumes. When we got back I retold our story to the staff sitting in the Banda while Moses went to wash his face by the water container.
His wife was picked up yesterday afternoon by his brother-in-law and taken to hospital. He’s had quite a lot on his mind recently, perhaps that’s why he wasn’t being as vigilant as usual. As an ex-hunter his eyesight is incredible. He usually spots things very quickly and is the best man to have as a guide in the forest.
This afternoon I gave him his “advance”. Geoffrey has still not returned from seeing his mum, so I spoke to Zepher, the camp administrator. He’s a wonderful man, with a larger-than-life personality and is adored by everyone here.
Moses hit the road back home just as the skies were clouding over. I do hope he has his rain-mac with him, it looks like it’s about to pour down.