On the farm, when I was about 9 or 10, I loved to go for long walks gathering specimens for my "museum". I was going to marry Gerald Durrell one day so I needed all the practice I could get. My mom didn't like the idea of children wandering off alone all day so she employed the sister of our Induna (headman) to trail along after me making sure I didn't fall into any danger. At the time I wasn't aware that there were any dangers at all but now looking back I realize there were many. My minder's name was Mino and she was probably in her early fifties but we all called her Gogo which means Grandmother in zulu. I loved Gogo almost as much as I did my own grandmother. She taught me and my friends the zulu words for all the creatures we met during our walks. She had endless patience, a ready smile and bubbling laughter.
A few miles from the homestead there was a little thatched cottage overlooking the river which was backed by a forest of pine trees. We used to rent this out in holiday season to the townies who needed a retreat. I loved to explore this area because there were always weavers nests on the ground beneath the pines and kowes growing out from under the pine needles. Kowe are the most delicious giant mushrooms (sometimes the size of a dinner plate), a delacacy which tastes remarkably like fillet steak. It was on one of these excursions to the cottage that Gogo proved her worth as child minder 10 fold. As I was bending down to pick up a nest that was lying half buried in the pine needles I heard a rush of sound behind me. On turning I looked straight into the upright body of an Egyptian Cobra . It had reared up almost onto the tip of it's tail with its hood puffed right out and in the second before striking Gogo had thrown herself at it, beating madly with a stick untill the cobra lay still. At the time I never realized the implications. In fact I don't think I even reported the incident to my mother which is just as well because my adventures would have come to a sudden halt. It was only years later, chatting to my husband, that I realized the danger I had been in.
An interesting snippet from Wikipedia >>>"Most ancient sources say that Cleopatra committed suicide by being bitten by an aspis, which translates into English as "asp." Plutarch tells us that she did experiments on condemned prisoners and found aspis venom to be the most painless of all fatal poisons. Today it is generally believed that this "aspis" is the Naja haje." (Egyptian Cobra)