I wish someone had told me about The Unlikely Bird Man

“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by Josie Dougall.

It is often when you least expect it that you meet the most exceptional people. One Monday morning, arriving for another busy brilliant week at Etana Insurance, Carel called me to say that there was an intern starting… “Natal Royalty, like you Josephine. Look after him, give him work and don’t fuc up!”. Two years later that intern who I was irritated to have been lumped with in amongst my very busy day, became my fiancé, then husband and subsequent partner in everything. Big thanks to Fate for that Monday morning and the incredible impact it has had on my life.

It happened again this week. On Tuesday, after a two year hiatus from the bush (thanks to pregnancy, motherhood, and a host of other reasons), Simon and I arrived, childless and blissfully happy at the thought of two days looking at the view from the exceptional Outpost Lodge in the north of Kruger. As I sunk into the sofa, welcome drink in hand, a beautiful friendly face greeted us… “Hi I am Sam, I will be your guide”.

As fate would have it, Samual Japane had an exceptional story to tell. I have inherited a hugely enquiring mind from my mother. Like her, love hearing people’s stories. Experience has proven that the more interested you are, the more interesting life can be.

“Where do you come from, Sam?” “How long have you worked here, Sam?” “Did you always want to be a ranger, Sam?” Eventually, on one of our morning coffee stops as we sat at Crooks Corner, the confluence of two rivers and three countries, and peered across a sandy river bank at Zimbabwe to our left and Mozambique to our right, Sam stood back, cleared his throat, and in a manner that I am sure has been passed down from generations of Vendas, he politely asked our permission to tell his story.

Fifteen minutes later, Jenny and Johnny from Australia, and my husband and I were transfixed, as Sam told us his tale…

A tale that took us from his childhood and being relocated by the apartheid government, to his job as a security guard at a school, to owning a donkey, to a dream that woke him in the middle of the night at age 48 telling him that he must learn birds if he wants to change his life.

Sam followed his heart and his dream, and is now a leading expert on birds. He can identify over 600 species, by sighting and by call. He even recites the reference number from the Newman’s bird book that relates to that bird.

“401 – Pearl Spotted Owl” “712 – Trumpeter Hornbill”.

This man is a legend. An ordinary South African, with an extraordinary story.

With the help of many other wonderful South Africans who have touched Sam’s life along the way, Sam has written and published a book about his life.

I urge you to engage with your fellow citizens. Ask questions, listen to their stories and get involved in their lives, and who knows what the outcomes could be.

A big shout-out to The Outpost Lodge for believing in this man and giving him a chance and a job that has changed his life.