Global Correspondent Report Report on South Africa




Jeffrey Spahr-Summers , US

Global Lay-Correspondent Report on South Africa


Nightmares and Snakes

Beyond the standard childhood nightmare, where one must constantly escape from some unspecific but horrific beast that is forever in pursuit, it wasn’t long before I began having my own brand of nightmares. Snakes were in abundance throughout the country, as well as, a chilling phenomenon, snake parks. Dad insisted we go into every snake park we came across for six years. They terrified me. Always, there were huge, deep, basically no more than empty swimming pools where attendants (conspicuously, I noticed, courageous yet foolhardy African men) wearing waist-high rubber waders and carrying long sticks as they waded through hundreds or thousands of snakes. This image, as I have just described it became my nightmare … the very ground came alive with snakes; I was always running, running from and over them, climbing whenever I could, but always the snakes were upon me … my new monsters.

The snakes are still my monsters and lately they’ve come back to help me write.

Every encounter I had with snakes, on the ridge or around the house, struck home on a very personal level. I frequently ran home breathless, petrified, having just run into one snake or another. Our house was no longer a refuge after finding two Night Adders (one each on different occasions) in my bedroom. When I came across the first snake I immediately called for Dad, I must have been very pale or just obviously scared; Mom instantly asked, “Jeff is there a snake in there?” I ignored her and called for Dad again, who promptly came and beat the snake to death with a wooden slat from my desk chair. Two weeks later, I found the second snake and again I called for Dad, who killed it in the same manner.

Mambas are particularly unnerving, all black and incredibly ferocious; they are commonly found in corn fields. Unlike most snakes, Mambas do not hide or retreat for protection, they aggressively seek out confrontations and they are very fast. In Oklahoma many years later, a friend recorded a T.V. special for me … ‘The World’s Ten Most Dangerous Snakes’ (in order to see which of them I was familiar with she told me). Mambas topped the list (all of the snakes in this account were on the list) and I knew nine out of the ten, this fact deeply disturbs me, even now.

I once found a Cobra in the junkyard behind our house, hiding under the hood of a junked car. My tennis racket served me well, but I never again went back to that very spot, certainly nearby, but never exactly there. And there were other snakes, like the nearly fluorescent green Boom Slang (Afrikaans for tree snake) that I found in the vines outside my bedroom window. I went to Dad and showed him where I saw the snake. While we looked for it, it suddenly appeared across the lawn and went down a hole in the ground. Dad told me to get some boiling water. Keenly aware that the water wasn’t boiling quick enough, I remember so well … I couldn’t wait for the boil ... I finally returned with the boiling water and Dad poured it down the hole. “What if it has another hole?” I asked. “The little bastard probably does,” he replied.


1: On the Move—December 2007

2: Rain—January 2008

3: Culture Shock—February 2008

4: Lord of the Ridge and Fort Scorpion—March 2008

5: Nightmares and Snakes—April 2008






Read Additional Poems by Jeffrey Spahr-Summers

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