Elephant Chess



Elephant Chess


Dewain Barber

When the alarm went off, I wanted to say, “Please give me three more hours.” But, at 5 am in a rustic cabin, “The Adventure Continued.” As I looked out on the Okavango Delta, I really wondered what I had gotten myself into. My wife has loved elephants all her life, and this was her opportunity to see the African bush elephant in Botswana.

I pushed aside the mosquito netting and stood up to look out on the lake, but instead of seeing anything of note, I heard the hippos snorting loudly. Last night I heard their musical noise while I took an open air shower in a facility with three sides attached to our cabin, a view of the stars above and the dark delta before me. One wall of each room is just screening, with no glass.

After getting dressed, my wife, Susan, and I went to the open air dining area for a small breakfast. We were greeted by our tracker, Simon and ranger, Albert. We were also pleased to meet our host and manager of the Mapula Safari Camp, a young lady named, of all things, Mapula. I found out that we would be using a Land Rover on a game drive to see elephants, giraffes, lions and hippos.

We are a long way from civilization; therefore my traditional question involving chess seemed a little silly, but I asked it anyway. “Mapula, do you know if any of your staff plays the game of chess?”

Her reply was, “No, but if you play, I would like to learn, and I have two children at home who can learn from me.” I was shocked and thought she was simply being nice to a guest. As it turned out, she was genuinely interested in learning. We agreed that when I returned from the game drive, we could set up my folding magnetic set, and I would provide a chess lesson.

After the very exciting game drive, Mapula was waiting for our Land Rover to arrive. She was a fast learner regarding the basic moves and understood the concepts of developing the pieces, playing to the center, and castling. As I wrapped up the lesson, I told her that I wanted to give her my magnetic set and a copy of Chess Life. She understood the algebraic notation so the Chess Life copy would come in handy for going over games.

As the sun went down, we could hear a large contingent of hippos and warthogs snorting, frogs croaking and birds squawking. We were also visited that evening by two elephants and were informed in the morning that a pride of lions had crossed the river into our area. We had another exciting game drive where we saw more elephants, 3 male lions, and a hippo out of water. What a trip! My wife enjoyed viewing the wild elephants, and I got to share the game of chess with a Botswanian lady.