Too Long Out Of Africa

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I had been wondering to myself whether I would post some of my Africa pix for the nature photo challenge, and thought I probably wouldn’t. Then the ‘Landscape’ challenge cropped up, and so here  I am, killing two birds with one shot. Or it might be two. Also, for whatever reason that has nothing much to do with me, post editing or anything, this view of the Maasai Mara (edge of the Ololo Escarpment to the right, desert date tree to the left) has acquired the look of a painted landscape. I think it was probably taken at dawn, out on game drive from the Mara River Camp, one of the last places we stayed before ending our eight-year life in Kenya and Zambia.

The desert date (Balanites aegyptica), much like the baobab, is one of Africa’s treasure trees, and has multiple uses. It grows in the driest places across the Sahel and savannah regions of the continent, and fruits in the driest of years. It is thus highly valued by nomadic herders since both fruit and foliage provide useful forage for camels and goats during times of drought.

Also a nourishing and restoring skin oil can be made by milling the fruit, its cosmetic and therapeutic qualities long known of by the Ancient Egyptians. (Samples have apparently been discovered amongst pyramid grave goods). And you can buy it now. Fair trade producers in Senegal, West Africa are producing the oil commercially.

Other traditional uses include making fish poison from the bark, and using the termite resistant wood to fashion farm tools. Better still, an emulsion can be produced from the fruit – harmless to humans and warm-blooded mammals (Trees of Kenya  Tim Noad & Ann Birnie: 27) and used to clean up drinking water supplies. It kills the freshwater snails that carry bilharzia, and the water fleas that carry guinea worm, both causes of distressing and debilitating diseases in many parts of Africa.

The continued existence of this tree is also related to the continued existence of elephants. In the wild they are the main conduits by which seed is processed and made ready to plant. Having passed through the elephant’s digestive tract, it is then conveniently deposited in its own dollop of manure. Another example of how all in the natural world is intimately connected, and we kill off bits of it (stupidly thinking they don’t matter) at our peril.


Elephants at high noon beside the Mara airstrip. You can see the green tops of desert date trees above a gully in the distant heat haze.


Anna at Una Vista di San Fermo invited me to join the 7-day Nature Photo Challenge. This is my Day 4. Please also go and see Laura’s magnificent dragonfly at Eljaygee, and Sue Judd’s elegant study of daffodil decay at WordsVisual, and Gilly’s absolutely mega termite mound at Lucid Gypsy.


49 thoughts on “Too Long Out Of Africa

  1. I love visiting Africa with you Tish, such a different type of landscape, and very interesting information about the versatile date tree. I never knew there was a date tree as I have only heard of the date palm. Are they in any way related?

    1. No, I don’t think they can be related. It may be the similarity in fruit shape that earned the desert date its name – and the fact it grows in such arid conditions. It’s a pale orangy-gold in colour, and doesn’t look too appetizing really. Very popular with plains game though, and not just the elephants.

      1. No. I had a breakfast picnic under a desert date once, but the tree didn’t have any fruit. I think it gets gobbled pretty fast anyway.

    1. yes, indeed. Africa has some stunningly useful trees. The baobab is a veritable tree of life. Much of African traditional medicine (human and veterinary) is based on using tree parts – leaves, roots, bark and fruits. BigPharma is ever looking to make money out of such remedies.

  2. Tish, I’m very glad you decided to post these photos, which work perfectly for the challenge. God created the most amazing and useful things and as you say, we destroy them at our peril. I love the feeling of endless beauty in your first shot and thanks for the information about the tree, which I didn’t know. Have a lovely weekend.


  3. Oh! the beautiful landscape you’ve captured, reminds of home. Beautiful and informative post Tish:)

  4. I love the texture and colours of your African photos, and the thought of your long residence there. As always the information is full of interest. I love the concept of a treasure tree.

    1. I often wonder about this, Jo – going back. I’m not sure we ever will. My niece is in Malawi at the moment. I admit I find it unsettling, and I do feel a bit envious too.

    1. Now you’ve reminded me of something I’ve just read by John Heminway (without a g), documentary film maker and great traveller in Africa, speaking of both himself and THE Hemingway. Both observed themselves feeling nostalgic for Africa while they were still actually there. I remember feeling that too. Very strange – possibly something hardwired, deep within our genetic memory – the continent where we originated? Interesting thought.

  5. I think this would look wonderful framed as well, of course I love African landscapes too. Spending 8 years there must have been incredible, I’ve only managed a few short holidays and will probably never go back even, or especially, to Nigeria.
    I didn’t know the properties of this tree, thank you. I do worry about western exploitation of yet another thing that has been safe in local hands for ever. Shea butter, argan, and more have become commonplace in products that make huge industries wealthy as what cost?
    I know a lovely man, Malcolm the African Chef. He lives locally and makes Boabab jams and other delicious condiments on a small scale. He is a gentle soul and genuinely cares about doing no harm to his homeland. Have a peep if you can, search on my site.

    1. I think I may well have heard of Malcolm, but many thanks for the reminder, Gilly. As to exploitation of African products, one does indeed wonder how much of the profits go back to producers of the raw materials. On the other hand European demand can give local people a real reason to save trees rather than use them as firewood. Much of Mali seems to have been deforested this way. It used to have orchards of shea trees for instance. But then if people weren’t so poor and under-served with alternative power sources, they wouldn’t be cutting down the trees.

      1. Probably only when multinationals stop buying their way into African countries by paying off the powerful few (such a cheap way in for them), and then making off with all the valuable cut-price resources without paying local or home taxes. Five hundred years of theft and rapine, Gilly.

  6. You always have the most beautiful landscapes to share Tish and with wonderful stories. They would really make stunning paintings as well. Just don’t blow them up like Ark suggested. LOL!

    1. Oh there are amazingly beautiful places – from the glaciers of Mount Kenya to arid thorn country, the soda lakes and the Great Rift, and that’s only a little bit of East Africa. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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