It was my second night in Africa, and I was twitchy excited. We were nestled in our tents, a mere stone wall preventing wild animals from chewing our necks open while we slept. Critters rustled about, dogs barked. “This is ridiculous” I thought, why on earth are we bothering with sleep when there’s an entire Africa out there to be discovered?
I slipped out of my cozy sleeping bag and did what I’m best at. I wandered off.
Our safari camp was located at the end of a small gathering of buildings, too few to call a town, near Nakuru Kenya. There was a buzz of music that drew me forward, a vibrant melody, a bubbly chorus in Swahili. Otherwise, the village seemed abandoned, not a soul in sight. I came upon the blue building, the source of this magical tune, and peered inside. The room fell silent.
A mzungu had escaped.
The bar was filled with tour guides, cooks, safari drivers, all the people who look after the mzungus (tourists) while on their African adventure. They were finally off the clock after a long hot day, enjoying a cold beer, some great music and the latest football match. I was a terrible intrusion. Quickly some terse words were spoken and Amos, our guide, jumped up in an effort to sweep me back to my tent. “Uh, I was just looking for the keys to the truck, I need to lock something up,” I explained.
Amos walked me back with a gentle yet stern lecture about wandering off. It would be the first of many over the next couple of weeks. But I sensed an adventure… I batted my eyelashes and smiled sweetly. “Amos, I can’t sleep. Do you think I could join you for a beer?” Now, I know it was wrong, but it was really good music. With a sigh, he brought me back to the bar. Despite his efforts to encourage his friends to join us at the table, we were left to sit alone while I dodged looks of “This is our turf, lady.” Don’t get me wrong, the folks I met on my adventures in East Africa were nothing but welcoming, but I was intruding on their off-duty fun.
Thus began a great friendship between Amos and I. We sat for a number of beers while we discussed important issues, like how many cows I would be worth. I learned what happens to the cows after a couple splits up (they must be sold as they are unlucky cows, and one must be set free to wander – my kind of cow). I learned about Amos’ upbringing, his complex family, his first pair of shoes at age 19, his escapes from both crocodiles and kidnapping. I teased him about how well he takes care of our unruly group. “We need to get you a big stick to keep us all in line, we’re like your sheep.”
He smiled his wonderfully bashful smile and shook his head. “No,” he corrected me. “You are not sheep, you are my family. I will take care of you.” These words remain true years later. I travelled solo with him on a second trip, meeting his family, exploring where he grew up. Every moment of the way he was professional, kind and led with his heart. If you’re considering a trip to East Africa, I can’t recommend him enough, be sure to check him out. Any town we went to in Kenya and Uganda, he knew someone. He’s full of stories and information. While I haven’t seen him in a few years, we chat regularly. He is more than a tour guide, he has held onto his ‘family’ label.
Despite his regular warnings not to wander off, I never quite obeyed. Our next safari campsite in Naivasha Kenya was a bit more exciting. It lacked the big protective wall, instead we had a small ditch, and a flimsy fence that may have at one point been electric. Beyond this oh-so-safe barrier were hippos. Did you know that hippos kill more people in Africa than all the other animals combined? Or that their heads way 500 pounds? And that they have a rather violent temper? I had to meet one, but they only came to visit late at night.
My travelling sidekick Rhonda is the most tolerant person I know. I suspect she puts up with me solely because we have equal amounts of dirt on each other, bonding us for life, for fear of our secrets escaping out of anger. She also has a teeny little bladder. I’m ashamed to admit, but I used this to my advantage. My master plan was a simple one – if I happened to wake her up in the night by shuffling about in the tent, her bladder would insist on a journey to the toilet. Her good sense (if only fleeting) would suggest that I should tag along for safety. On our way back to the tent, I would divert us to the hippo grounds. We would simply, quietly, stealthily sneak up on them.
We were oh so very brave with our tiny flashlights, creeping along in silence (though I do believe I heard her aim a couple of death threats in my general direction). We arrived at the small ditch and dilapidated fence. We trembled as we pretended to be fierce and fearless. We would see the hippos and live to tell the tale. We were so entirely awesome.
As we peered out into the darkness, something scurried past us in the ditch. Something I’m sure was rabid, poisonous, full of teeth and rage. Or a rat. We screamed and ran off like little girls crying for our mommies. Rhonda still curses me out over that one. The next morning we returned to the scene of the rat incident to find that the hippos did in fact visit. Platter sized foot print in the mud just near where we had been standing. If only we had waited a little while longer… but there would be more opportunities for wandering off into the night soon enough. Much to Rhonda and Amos’ great dismay.