I HAVE THE DISTINCTION OF having spent a honeymoon, 33 years ago, in Zambia, which was then part of the British colonial Central African Federation. But the other kind of passion, which motivates this trip, has waited a long time for fulfilment.

Why haven't I got to the Luangwa Valley before now? I have been back to Zambia every few years. I have good friends there. I've been received by President Kaunda. Some of the country's landscapes provided the background for one of my novels, A Guest of Honour.

There have been practical reasons for half-a-lifetime's delay. But I think there are also the twinned factors of deferred pleasure

(keeping something to look forward to) and fear of disillusion (protecting oneself by not putting anticipation to the proof).

A spanking Boeing 737 brings me from the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, to the airfield at Mfuwe village which serves the Luangwa Valley. The plane alights ostentatiously against an horizon of bush so vast and flat it looks like mist rolled back off the bright day; grounded, the Boeing is obtrusive as a skyscraper. The only other traffic on the field is the yellow-and-white mosquito-size craft that tells me my friends Mike and Margaret Wijnberg have flown from their home on the Copperbelt to meet me. And there Mike is, standing in front of a natty miniature European or American airport terminal which he himself built -- he operates a construction company.

We climb into one of those absolutely confidence-inspiring vehicles improvised in remote parts of the world. This one is a Japanese four-wheel drive, the cab and hood removed and two home-upholstered benches perched and secured on the loading space. The Alexandrian Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy, gives advice for the journeys we embark upon to our Ithakas -- the dreamed-of places: ". . . hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery." We are not yet in the South Luangwa National Park -- to give my destination its official title -- but Cavafy's wish for us begins to be fulfilled when Mike's air terminal has scarcely been left behind a line of vegetable-ivory palms raising their coiffured heads as curious observers of our departure. The ubiquitous wild livestock of southern and Central Africa, impala, are at the corrugated road's side, frail on their high-heeled hooves, moving away in a slipstream, stopping, dead-still, to gaze back at what has disturbed them. We who live in Africa hardly bother to look at them, their beauty as familiar as that of a long-loved woman. But new discoveries are among the impala. Shaggy waterbuck, very shy in most habitats, are sociably in the open, the white-ringed target of their rumps presented like dart boards; I see for the first time in my life the puku, a henna-red buck peculiar to the valley. A shower of emerald chips flings away from the vehicle: Lilian's lovebirds; I'm accustomed only to a single one, caged as some old lady's pet.

Through a freckled forest of vase-shaped mopani trees with their slender trunks holding up bouquets of winter-tinted leaves, we come to the river for which the valley is named, the Luangwa itself. I shall see it in many guises; here it is broad and quiet, a mother-of-pearl skin between sandbanks it has gouged away in a wilder mood, of flood. Its surface is broken by great smooth, dark boulders; but there are no rocks in the Luangwa River: The boulders speak -- HUFF-HUff-huff in a descending scale. The whole stretch of river is steppingstoned with the gross bodies of dozing hippos. Generally, in daylight, hippos will show above water only their bulging frontal ridge and childish ears. Here, as we watch, they leave the colloquies of the water and obesely make it up the lower sandbanks; a whole slimming spa full of hopeless cases. Back among trees farther on, there is even an adventure. We see a mother elephant and baby, attended, as is customary with elephants, who practice feminist solidarity in the wild, by a supportive female generally known as an "auntie." Mother and baby are feeding -- mother browsing a mopani tree, baby suckling. We are too near and watch too long. Auntie notices mother's unease and comes trumpeting towards us, the huge ears of the African elephant unfurled. It is a moment when one hopes the ignition switch will not fail; but the vehicle on which we are exposed to the elephant's irritation does not betray trust. We drive off, and she stands there, that huge virago, swinging from columnar leg to leg. The infant has not interrupted its feed. I confirm that although I revere the elephant above all other beasts, I am afraid of elephants. And isn't a touch of fearful pleasure the defining quality of adventure? THE GREAT RIFT VALLEY IS THE CONTINENTAL fault that runs the length of Africa from the Red Sea. In Central Africa the rift divides at Zambian latitude. To the east, it holds Lake Malawi, in Malawi, and to the west, in Zambia, becomes the Luangwa Valley, which stretches north and south for about 400 kilometres and is about 100 kilometres wide. Here, 1,000 metres below containing escarpments, the valley protects two national parks. The North Park is the smaller, more or less inaccessible, and gravely affected by the sophisticated elephant and rhino poaching now decimating much of Africa. The South Park covers nearly 10,000 square kilometres and extends across the Luangwa River in two places. It is in the Eastern Province of Zambia, bordered by Malawi and Mozambique.

There is no "arrival" in the static sense of the word, when you are going into the wild, because Cavafy's road of adventure and discovery continues to be travelled as long as you are in the territory. You are on the way, so to speak, all the time, with or without the tracks which are the ancestors of roads. You don't have goals; only resting places. The trusty vehicle came to a halt at Nsefu Camp. The camp takes 12 people, living in thatched rondavels under trees in the inestimable luxury of a place where many things are not: no telephone (radio communication for emergencies), no mail, no fire-engine sirens, no neighbours, no gadgets -- nothing in your small, lofty circle of habitation but a bed tucked into mosquito-netting, a shelf, a grass mat. But there is a shower cubicle and (in mine) a pallid, goggle-eyed tree frog who lives behind the lavatory cistern and comes out to hunt moths at night; it resembles a china ornament, the only one, thank heaven, in this uncluttered haven.

Communal living space is a big, open summer house, deep under thatch, bar-cum-dining-living room. The whole modest complex is demarcated from the land animals' domain on one side only by a knee-high "fence" of thatching grass, and on the other is separated from the amphibians only by the height of the bank on which the summer house is built.

We are fewer than 12, as a matter of fact, but we eat lunch and talk in the numerous company of those amphibians. "Nsefu" means hippo, in the local language. Nsefu, Nsefu -- I watch one among them slowly paddling in the middle of the river (there must be a submerged sandbank). Then he sinks -- hippos are not built for diving, the water might slop over the banks if they had been -- from one toddling step to the next: entirely. Hippos are the most orchestrated and conversational of beasts. They are tuning up like tubas; they humph to and fro at one another, old bores in a club. The human conversation is of animals and birds, not politics, which we ingest with every meal at home in South Africa. Zambia is a free country; one can talk of other things. The word "lore" becomes a conception of present not past, as I listen to John Coppinger, the young man who manages the camp, and his eager assistants, Mark and Malcolm, telling about the species that graze, browse, crawl, swim and fly in the environment that has taken us in. Baboons hunch on the sands, occasionally shouting. Guinea fowl, shaped in profile like the design on paisley silk, deck the nearest clearing, and puku and waterbuck edge towards the camp grass domesticated by snaking jets of water from a sprinkler.

I was to see countless crocodiles in the days ahead. But the first is not surpassed in the impression it makes. As so often with crocodiles, it is not of the company, human and amphibian, before it makes itself known. Crocodiles have the ability to be there and not there. Not only their immobility and protective colouring achieve this; we humans contribute. The crocodile's form takes some time to come up for recognition; the human eye can't easily match the image in collective memory for we were not yet present among the prehistoric forms we call monsters. This crocodile (I'd never get familiar, calling one "croc") has been directly below the summer house all the time we have been viewing the wide screen of river and sand and bringing close through binoculars the Egyptian geese (straight off Pharaonic tomb paintings) and fish eagles (focusing in the direction of their piercing whistle). Heavily plated, gray carbuncular, with great claws gloved in a smaller pattern, it slithers down the groove made by itself in the sand as it slithered up. The descent is incredibly rapid. It moves through the water swift as a knife; disappears.

It was enormous; enough for several suitcases and a half-dozen pairs of shoes. NIGHT DRIVES ARE FORBIDDEN IN ALL THE OTHER game parks I have been to. After dinner at Nsefu we go off in the Japanese vehicle with a searchlight that seeks out the life of nocturnals I have often heard but never seen. There is no sky; an enveloping cool darkness in which we seem to bump along among the stars; stars are above and around us, some flash green and red from our level -- the eyes of animals. In ground constellations they belong to the diurnals, buck resting. The light transfixes them. It swings a lighthouse beam up the intimacy concealed by branches, over ant heaps like ruined temples, and picks up the moving stars that are the eyes of the nocturnals as they draw arabesques through the night, busy over every mound and hole, seeking grubs, frogs and insects. Some who shun the day are revealed to be hidden beauties, spectacularly lovely in form and coat. The civet ignores the limelight of our attention and continues to work his ground; there is time to study every detail of his fur, exquisitely designed in black and white, the spots and stripes daringly combined. There are many genets about, equally ravishing, smaller creatures, with a different combination of spots and stripes in gold and black. Since city people always see first the work of art inspired by the creature or object, before (if ever) seeing the original, I perceive the civet's face as a ritual mask -- African? Pre-Columbian? -- the actual features of snout, eyes, mouth both disguised and accentuated by the superimposition of bold and powerful counter-features -- the markings. Carrying the reversed imagery further into the non-natural world, these creatures wear their coats like mannequins for whom an intentionally audacious haute couture has been devised.

Hippos graze on land at night; sometimes the beam rounds out a large backside in the bush. Unlike the nocturnals, they don't like to be discovered, far from their home in water. Although we are wary about encountering lions in the dark, we don't give a thought to the hippos until a swift trundling charge accompanied by a sound like a giant blowing his nose suddenly comes at the vehicle. Headlights and searchlight are extinguished a second before the hippo would dent us; he bumbles off.

Lions sigh deeply as their straining bellow fades away; we hear that strange despair but don't come upon the beasts until we arrive back, late, at the camp "fence." Lionesses are pacing in their hunting strategy around the welcoming open gateway. Malcolm thinks it not a bad idea to drive round to the kitchen area to see if any have strayed into the camp. It seems as routine as putting the cat out. A ROUGH CHARACTER IN ONE OF MY NOVELS remarks: "Show me what you excrete and I'll tell you who you are." (Doesn't put it as politely as that . . .) He was referring to socio-economic levels: those who can afford to eat smoked salmon and drink champagne, and those who subsist on basic grains. At Nsefu the remark takes on not only an inoffensive meaning, but provides one of the most interesting aspects of a walking safari.

No vehicle today. We set off into the morning of the world, conducted by John. Joseph, a Zambian in military outfit, with a gun, heads our single file, and David, another Zambian, brings up the rear. He has neither outfit nor gun, but twists an orange sack into a head ring, places it on his head and carries there a box with water, teakettle and Scottish shortbread. We have the new Africa, of armies, leading us, and the old Africa, the black man bearing the white man's burdens, behind us.

We walk for three hours at hardly more than the pace of grazing animals themselves, through dambos -- half-dried swamps -- where the water is quilted with the green rosettes of Nile cabbage among which sacred ibis, Egyptian geese, saddle-billed storks, puku, impala and baboons feed and stroll. But this is an outing on which you look down rather than up, following patterns in the dust. John shows us pug marks, hoof prints, branching bird intaglios -- elephant, hippo, lion, leopard, buck and bird tracks are obliterated in the sand by the mouldings on our sneaker- and boot-soles as we pass on.

We learn not only the lessons of tracks, but those of the digestive tract. There are black grape-bunches of droppings which tell of the passing of waterbuck this way; the giant pats left by elephant, flattened and picked over -- for undigested seeds, still edible -- by omnivorous baboons; the hard white turds whose origin you couldn't guess: They mark the presence of hyenas, who grind the bones left by other predators, an explanation of why, although kills are being made all the time, animals don't litter. But everywhere there are what appear to be dirt-encrusted bowling balls, some broken open. They are the scarab's dung-and-earth pottery, perfectly formed round her eggs by rolling the mixture between her bowlegs. I've watched the beetles making them, but never seen what they did with the finished products. John explains that they bury them. I understand, now, why this beetle who joins the beginning and end of existence by making a nest that is also a tomb from which renewal will come is the ancient symbol of eternal life. Then John shows the holes dug by honey-badgers, bush archeologists who excavate the nest-tombs to feed on beetle grubs, raiding the sacred continuity.

That evening we go on the Japanese vehicle in search of lions, because for most people seeing a lion is being received in audience by the wild, equivalent to meeting the head of state in another kind of foreign territory. For me, lions are the dusty Mafia in the republic of the beasts; I have seen them too often dishevelled, their dun coats soiled and sticky with blood, over-indulged diners at a feast provided by the gang they exploit to kill for them -- their females. And, of course, there's the slight: for lions, human presence generally doesn't count -- you meet in their cold eyes your non-existence. No ears billowing and trunk admonishing, as with the recognition that comes from the real royal line, the mighty elephant who doesn't dirty himself with orgies of flesh.

You find lions by watching out for vultures. If they are high and beautified by the grace of their flight, they too are on the lookout for a kill. Weighing down a tree, ugly as villainous Disney anthropomorphs, they flag their discovery. We crash off to join them, bucking over terrain that looks like ploughed fields but is merely elephant- and hippo-trampled. On the ground near the marked tree is a high, bare ribcage, like the frame of a boat hull; black hooves and thick-coated forelegs facing us are all that make the kill recognizable as a large waterbuck. Yet the vultures only wait, although there are no lions to be seen. So we wait, speculating. But after a few days in Luangwa, eyes used to the signifiers of cities are sending different messages back to the brain -- they are beginning to read the wild, its situations. The air is deserted. Up a tree a lioness slowly becomes discernible in a Cheshire cat position, not watching us, no, not watching the vultures: but there, guarding the kill simply by presence. Then, behind her, someone disentangles from the pattern of leaves another; and right beside us the cave of a dead bush has a touch of life -- a black-tipped lion tail stirring. They are all around us, we know, now.

If a lion bothers with you at all, it is probably to kill you. We don't have Joseph and his gun, but I don't feel the zest of fear of these sly gangsters, blinking at the flies, that I do when an elephant does me the honour of threatening my puny organism with its noble might. The Cheshire cat scrambles down from her tree, followed, in a soft leap, by her companion. Both are so full of meat they could be taken for pregnant. They glide into the camouflage of the nearest bush. As we drive off, a male with Rasta locks turns his head away from us.

Patient as a vulture: I've learnt a new simile; they're still waiting for their share of the pickings. DEATH IS OMNIPRESENT BUT THERE IS NO sorrow, in the wild, since death cannot be postponed by medical science, as with us; it is a daily necessity of survival. When the vultures have done and the hyenas have nourished themselves with the bones, the flies and beetles will quickly finish the transformation; death is not depressing because there is no decay to contemplate. That is why one thinks of the wild as paradise. And that is why it is horribly out of place when I come upon the sight of a dreadful carnival suit, gray, empty, grotesquely holding the sunken shape of some being that wore it, abandoned on a sandbank. It is a dead hippo, which has rotted and literally drained out of its hide. For the first time, we hear of a mysterious disease which is appearing among hippos this year. To us, the knowledge comes as the invasion of our own kind of reality into a world to which we would bar its entry.

There is another invasion. One morning on a peaceful dambo, while watching a puku doe alone with a baby kneeling to nurse under her legs, all the colours of sunrise burnished in her coat, the earth begins to vibrate. As we approach the source of disturbance through an ebony grove, it becomes a deafening shudder, and there rears up the incredible incongruity of a line of great red-painted hybrids, both truck and machine, each with a giant footplate clamped to the earth. Seismic sounding is being carried out; the concession to search for oil has been auctioned by the Zambian government. A white overseer reads a magazine in his cab, and black workers tinker about. Nobody greets us; they are only there under orders, but they sense the luxury of hostility we feel for their project -- we who, at home in our cities, can't cover our territory without oil. Yet a sense of solidarity with our own species sends us back to warn the men not to wander about, when, a kilometer down the track they themselves have cut, we run into a kill blocking the way. Lionesses have brought down a buffalo and are resting between courses; a fine male has taken up the New York Public Library pose, although his domain is trembling beneath him. THE PLACE OF THE HIPPO'S GRIM CARNIVAL SUIT was appropriately Luangwa Wafwa -- Dead Luangwa, so called because the Luangwa River once flowed there. The Luangwa is wayward as the Mississippi; it too forms ox-bow bends, changes course. But not by the same means.

We stop for a sundowner on a cliff sheered away from our feet. The fire of the sun flows down the wide waters below. Last year there was no river at this place, only a cutting the width of a hippo's body -- these cuttings, which hippos make when they climb the bank at night to feed, are everywhere. But this one has been taken advantage of by the river. The Luangwa is given volume to make a course of a hippo-cutting and alter a landscape by the "sand rivers" whose beds we grind through in our rangings -- not rivers at all, but great swaths of desert that hold the contours of vanished currents in their dryness. They flash down in seasonal flood for a few weeks a year and feed power to the real river. A few years ago Nsefu Camp had to be resited because the Luangwa River had turned away from the camp's original location on its bank.

Nsefu itself is seasonal. It is open during the five winter months of the Southern Hemisphere. At the end of this October, as every year, absolutely everything in the camp will be packed up and transported away. The perfect living space of the summer house, the white rondavels -- all immovables will be left to the wild until the following June, sealed by the track-roads become impassable, in this part of the park, in the rains. It is a period of renewal in obedience to nature, and I can't help finding in this some explanation for the particular quality of this place -- a matchless acceptance that includes, while one is there, acceptance of self. THERE ARE 7,700 ELEPHANTS IN THE NSEFU sector or the park. But figures mean nothing in relation to the concreteness of beholding.

On the way to Norman Carr's Kapani Camp (Place of the Mopani Trees) we notice from a majestic distance a few elephants coming down to drink and bathe among the livid-green Nile cabbages on Baka-Baka Lagoon. Only elephants really match the scale of the wild (giraffe? -- somehow too attenuated, spindly). When elephants begin to appear, I have the exhilarating sense that the eye widens, that I need to draw deep breaths to take it all in through extended senses. As we draw closer, the elephants are coming from everywhere, blotting out the light between trees, flowing with their great swaying gait away from us on this side of the water, surging towards us from the other. After 50, we lose count. From our vantage point they cross in a huge flotilla, trailing green garlands. Their trunks arch like bugles as they fill their mouths with water; then serve as shower faucets, turning their backs -- the opaque dark of antiquity itself -- to a silvery sheen. The white of wet tusks makes splendid sabre curves. As they leave the water they talcum themselves with sand; and the bony intellectual foreheads of the next wave, awaiting their turn in the lagoon, begin to move. It is a tremendous slow-motion to and fro, elephants weaving past elephants in time not the time blinking on our digital watches. A glory. KAPANI CAMP SEEMS NOT TO HAVE THE INTIMACY with the beasts that characterizes Nsefu -- I have a fine big room with a ceiling fan circling coolness, the living pavilion is a more formal construction, and a resort-style swimming pool has just been completed. I stand on a deck, dark under interlaced giant wild fig trees, built over a brilliant field -- the river, entirely covered by Nile cabbage. Nothing to be seen out there but the spider-clawed jacana bird, walking the leaves. Then there is a neon flash of turquoise starlings, and over my head the branches begin to come to life as causeways run by chittering vervet monkeys. A strange sound detaches itself from the hum of a hot afternoon: a bubbling crunching. I can't place it. Suddenly the huge mug of a hippo rises through the Nile cabbage, and another and another. Dozens have been there all along, submarine, munching their way to the surface through the field of watery vegetable. Now the heads cruise steadily about, opening jaws wide enough to take in Jonah, and slurping, burping as they chomp, chomp, chomp. After two hours, they were still at it -- the biggest coleslaw salad in the world.

Norman Carr comes up quietly and reflects upon the scene that is, with his lifelong knowledge of every beast and bird in the Luangwa Valley, even more amazing to him than it is to me. He confirms that hippos graze, devouring 180 to 270 kilos of grass a day, and that never, until this year, have they eaten Nile cabbage. Is it gross indigestion from this drastic change of food that is killing them; or do they eat cabbage to supplement some temporary dietary deficiency? I may speculate, out of my ignorance; he, in his learnedness, admits no one knows.

Carr is a slight figure with an aesthete's narrow face dominated by intense black eyes. In him the courtesy and humour, the offhand, low voice of an educated Englishman of the old colonial school go with a totally unconventional temperament. He has lived alone with lions and written, without sentimentality or vanity, a book about them (Return to the Wild), and another, a classic about Luangwa (Valley of the Elephants). I was lucky enough to have him as personal mentor at Kapani.

Carr follows an invisible map of familiarity as he drives the usual improvised vehicle. He knows where the spectacular sights are likely to happen: an opera of crowned cranes calling across the sky; a flood plain with a whole bestiary assembled -- wart hogs, herds of puku and impala, greater kudu, Burchell's zebra, baboons and a Thornicroft's giraffe, working out how to fold his legs to drink, his dark markings like the cracked glaze on certain oriental ceramics. Carr will also stop where there is apparently not much to see, and get out to pick and offer a fragrant sprig from his bush parfumerie, or drive round a baobab tree (gray bark like the silky, veined skin of an old man's hand) to point out the honeycomb wild bees have built there in fan-shaped ledges of wax. More often, the focus will be a tree; once, a winter-thorn, from a distance illuminated with orange-rose flowers, but close up revealed to be a marvel of seed-pods that he aptly describes as curled apple rings. With a special respect I learn that the struggle between prey and predator is here also enacted vegetally, silently. From a bird's dropping, a seed of the parasite fig tree has germinated in the branches of a splendid trichilia tree; I am gazing now at the motionless death throes of the trichilia, being strangled in the grip of fig roots that clutch it as they climb down to earth. Some trees are a three-in-one conflict -- a winter-thorn and trichilia helplessly roped by a fig.

The landscape in this part of the valley differs from that of the Nsefu sector. Smooth, pale-grassed space opens from forest thickets, with stately avenues of trees giving the illusion of park plantings. In reality the trees are growing along the limits of winter-drained flood plains. The elegant topiary that has levelled the glossy foliage of the trichilia mahogany is the work of kudu who browse up to the height of their reach. And in place of oaks and elms there are kigelia pinnata, each hung like a well-stocked Italian delicatessen with salami-sized pods. On night drives, when the beam of light plays on the "sausage trees," they are not domestic in association but weirdly suggestive of some druidical worship. On a walking safari, when I picked up a fallen "sausage" it brought to mind something yet quite other: it must have weighed five kilos, and looked like a bomb.

There was a sleepless night at Kapani. The small hours reverberated with the groaning of lions and the pumping bellows of their panting. At dawn, hyenas came off shift howling weariness. We had been on a night drive and become aware, in a dark hollow, of a breathing mass -- a herd of buffalo. The light caught the heavy horns that meet above their eyes and give them the dull look of people with low foreheads. Lions were stalking them. Headlights, searchlight and engine were turned off, and we sat, silenced by the peculiar tension that beasts draw tight in their unseen concentration: the buffalo on escape, the lion on finding them. The lionesses were spread out in their hunting formation, but a male seemed to be in charge. While the searchlight was still prying through the bush, he had come past us into its shaft, lifting his head to give hoarse, straining orders as he strode. There was no rustle to betray the buffalo, although those weighty beasts must have been moving away because at last the lions did, and we drove back to bed, slowly relaxing clenched hands.

In the morning, the dirty rags of vultures hung on trees, marking more than one kill. "NATURE" HAS INCLUDED HUMANS FOR MILLEN- nia; Nsefu is the world before humankind, where we have no place in ecology except as onlookers. Kapani is nature after the arrival of the first human and his wife (but before their son Cain, who in his present avatar is surely the brains of poaching cartels operating from abroad) for the camp is just outside the park and occasional human cries drift over among animal calls. Where there are people as well as animals, I always wish to pay my respects to my own species. Norman Carr takes me to visit a village. There are no tourist villages; it is the home of the Kapani Camp cook, where his father is headman.

Animals know no boundaries where they may range in peace, and, in turn, the women we pass who are cutting thatching grass for their houses do so respectfully in the company of a couple of bachelor elephants come to strip the bark off trees, which they chew like quids of tobacco. I myself am African (though white) and don't romanticize animal life, accepting the grim fact that animals and humans cannot occupy the same habitat under modern conditions, unless in exceptional circumstances. The circumstances here, so far as humans are concerned, are that the population is small, and therefore there is no resentment among the people of the vast tract of land reserved for animals, neither is there competition for grazing, since tsetse fly in the valley, a variety harmless to humans and wild creatures, is fatal to cattle and goats, so no domestic herds can be kept. On the part of the beasts, these factors plus the superb watering- and breeding-places provided by the Luangwa River system with its numerous lagoons, allow the exceptional concentration of animal life in the park.

The headman puts aside the sleeping mat he is weaving and welcomes us. Mango trees, and pawpaw palms bulbous with green fruit, create among the mud rondavels the aspect of neat plenty that warm climates give to poverty; the careful mounds where single sweet potato plants are growing frugally between dwellings and the meager field of millet stalks that have provided this year's staple food are the reality. So are the children, who, in a community without cows or goats, never taste milk once they are weaned and for whom any visit is an excitement. Some dash to fetch their schoolbooks; and I see that no longer are they learning the white man's version of their history -- here is the blacks' view of colonization, if still written in the colonizer's English. My holiday is ending, I am being eased back into the preoccupations I live with at home.

In that village, a woman so old that her eyes were bluish was shaping a pot out of clay made of the earth of the immense termite towers out of which I'd seen trees growing in the valley. I don't know if the lovely pot I have bought on my travels was the work of this ancient potter, but it, too, is made of termite clay. I'm taking this transformed piece of earth away with me. The day I am to leave Luangwa I sit with the pot protected on my lap in Mike Wijnberg's terminal, waiting for a plane that takes all day beyond schedule to arrive. A good thing; because its eventual touch-down coincides with the hour when another china ornament frog, exactly like the one in the bathroom at Nsefu, wakes up from where it has been sleeping, unknown to me, in my pot, and appears goggling at the lip, just in time to be restored to the valley in the grass on the margin of the airfield. Everything is in its place; I have realized my Ithaka by all I have gained on the way. :: Nadine Gordimer's most recent novel is A Sport of Nature.