Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Legend of the Hippo and the Porcupine - German Style

Canoe Safari in the '90s. Keeping a wary eye on the hippos. Lower Zambezi.

Now, I cannot recall when, or who, told me the Legend of the Hippo and the Porcupine, but one evening, many years ago, I tried to tell it to my German children.

Timon (Timi), would have been about four and David approaching seven. They were sort of semi-bilingual and had been to Zimbabwe several times.

Timi, Mana Pools Nat Park.

David, Mana Pools Nat Park

So the bedtime story went a bit like this –

‘YOUR children are in bed and it is YOUR turn to tell them a gute nacht geschichte.’ Thus spoke the wife.

The two were sitting up in the double bed, a huge illustrated fairy tales book next to them.

‘I am not reading out of that.’

‘Why not?’ says David.

‘Because reading Deutsche out loud is as pleasant as coughing up cigarette phlegm’

‘Flem? Was ist flem?’, Timi asks. ‘Daddy stinks of cigarettes…And beer.’

Knowing that this would be thirsty work, I took a large slug from my ever present brown bottle. ‘Beer makes me big and strong,’ say I, wiping the froth from my mouth.

‘Then why did Mummy say you crawl to bed last night,’ says the eldest one.

‘Something was wrong with my legs.’

‘And your head,’ says David knowingly.

‘Daddy ist ein dumkopf,’ agrees Timi.

‘Okay, that’s enough. Now I am going to tell you a story from Africa’. This immediately brings grins of anticipation.

‘I want the one about the bicycle in a hole and it pulled off your head.’

‘Timi, not that one again.’

David quips up, ‘Daddy, tell us about when you got paid to shoot tourists.’

‘What? I never shot tourists.’

‘Yes you did. When you were a policeman.’

‘Terrorists. I was supposed to shoot terrorists. Not tourists.’

‘Wots a terra-rist?’ says Timi.

‘It’s a tourist who has a gun instead of a camera…Okay! And I didn’t shoot anyone. Now can we get on with the story?’

A porcupine

‘Aha. Okay. ’

David giggles, ‘Alles klar.’

‘Alles Scheisse!’ This is Timi’s latest new proverb.

‘Anyway, one day on the banks of the Zambezi…’

‘Beer, not bank,’ comments David.

‘What you talking about?’ Now I am getting more confused.

‘In Zimbabwe you drank Zambezi.’

‘Castle auch,’ adds Timi. ‘I also drink Castle in Zimbabwe.’

Timi with castle

I finish my bottle whilst contemplating my revenge. I shout out, ‘Wife, bring me another beer. This is going to take a while.’ Ignoring their little mind games, I devise my own.

‘This is the story about the hippopotamus and the porcupine.’

‘Was?’ says Timi.

‘Nilpferd und schweinehund,’ translates David helpfully.

‘Not a schweinehund. It’s... Wife, what’s a porcupine?’ as I am presented with another beer.

‘Stachelschwein.’ She wanders off.

‘Alles Scheisse. Scheisse, Scheisse.’ says Timi.

‘Quiet. Shut up before one of us dies. Anyway, Timi, you will love this story because it is about your favourite word.’

‘Scheisse?’ Timi says hopefully.

‘Ja, scheisse, because did you know that when the hippo has a scheisse, it spins its tail around and around and sprays it everywhere.’

‘Cool,’ is David’s impressed response.

Timi is still a sentence or two behind. ‘Was ist ein stachelschweine?’

‘It’s a small animal with lots of black and white quills.’

‘Kills? Wot he kill?’ asks Timi.

I need to sort this out fast. ‘Look, you boys must remember when we went fishing at Kariba.’ They nod their heads enthusiastically. ‘Now what did I use as a float?’

‘The corks from Mummy’s wine bottles.’ David immediately acknowledges.

‘No man. The long, thin pointy things.’

‘Aah, alles klar,’ says Timi.

‘Anyway, long, long time ago, the hippo ate meat.’

‘People?’ asks David hopefully.

‘Who cares what kind of meat? They just ate meat. Well, one day the hippo got some stuck in his teeth.’

‘People?’ says David craftily.

‘And the people shouted, “This is scheisse”.’ With that shot from Timi, both boys fell over laughing.

‘Very clever, Timi. Now, the hippo can’t get the bit of meat out and it is driving him mad. Then he comes across the porcupine on the way to the market to sell his quills to the fisherman.’

‘How much he get for them?’ asks my materialistic orientated eldest.

‘I don’t know. It’s not the point. Anyway, the hippo asks to borrow a quill so he could poke out the meat. The porcupine agrees but says he wants it back when he returns from the market. When the porcupine is gone, the hippo digs and digs in his mouth and just as he gets the meat out - he swallows the quill!’

‘Scheisse,’ says Timi.

‘Big scheisse,’ I agree, ‘so he hides when the porcupine comes back. The hippo then thinks that if he has a…’

‘Scheisse!’ shouts Timi.

‘Correct, but he thinks that to find the quill better he will spin his tail very fast and scatter his scheisse, making it easier to find it’

‘And does he?’ David asks.

‘Well, that’s the whole point of the story, because he never found it, and to this day, the hippo still hides from the porcupine and he stills spins his tail when he has a sheisse and looks for the quill. And he is frightened to eat meat in case it sticks in his teeth again because he cannot go back to the porcupine for another quill. So since that time the hippo only eats grass.’ With that triumphant note I wrapped the story up. ‘Did you kids like that story?’

Together they replied, ‘Alles SCHEISSE!’

A Scweinehund


Anonymous said...

I wish to point out that the picture captioned "Timi with castle " should be more clearly captioned as important cultural training.

(Of course you could say it is a picture of a Russian baby, which would surprise nobody but the Russians who would want to know why the kid isn't teething on a vodka bottle.)

Steve carter said...

Hey Karl,
Very amusing. Typical kids. We too have lots of wine corks and beer bottles in our house.

MiRi said...

Hey Karl, great story, very funny. I like the way you set the dialogue too. I don't speak german but I understood all of it,including the jokes. I like writing about children's mishaps too.

Geoffrey Hughes said...

Great story! But then I'm a bit biassed being a displaced Rhodie - who misses the African bush - now living in Germany.