Within the last 12 months, I have made three trips to Africa. The first was to the hills of Uganda to help the Singing Gorilla Charity install water tanks and health clinics in a rural area. Not a paved road or an electric outlet to be seen for miles. It was maybe the most interesting vacation of my life. I came back to Chicago and looked around at everything that I had and thought about what an unnecessarily complex and spoiled life I have. The things I took for granted (like being able to have a drink of water when I was thirsty, or being able to choose what I ate every day) become more than an afterthought … for a while.
The second trip was to three areas of Kenya for a photographic safari, staying in nice lodges with great food. I learned how to use a camera properly! It was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Thirsty for more, the third trip was another safari to Kenya with my friend Jim, and we stayed in “luxury tents” on the bank of the Mara River with hippos making sounds night and day, drowning out the sound of hyenas, leopards, and lions hunting.
Each day, for many weeks after the trips, what I saw in Africa stayed on my mind. I remember that hyena hunting the wildebeest, that leopard carrying the carcass back to eat with her mom, those warthogs scampering away at any sound or movement, and that giraffe in a stare down with me until I’m the one that chose to leave. I remember the kids in the school reusing writing paper and sharpening inch-long pencils with knives. I remember them performing a concert with hand-made instruments. I remember being completely isolated from the news in the USA, and not missing it one bit (I now never talk about politics with anyone, as I feel that it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.)
Why does Africa stand out to me? It’s not for lack of places for me to compare it to, as I think I am fairly well traveled, and I do not get this feeling after returning from Bali or Thailand or anywhere else. Each trip to Africa in the last year was very different from the others, but I came away from each with a special feeling …. a feeling of witnessing something so different from what I experience in my “normal life”. Some things have a lasting effect. After going to Uganda, I try to order only the food I will eat so that won’t go to waste.
Africa rarely does things on a small scale, it certainly has plenty of room so why should it? It feels like nowhere else in the world. A visit to Africa will leave you wide-eyed, and you will likely find a way to go back for more. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.
As my friend Jim was preparing for his first trip to Africa, someone asked where he was headed. When he said “Safari in Africa … I have high expectations”, the answer came “Well whatever your expectations are, they will be far exceeded. There is Africa … and there is everywhere else!” If you go to Africa, you will understand what he means. You will surely come back from Africa feeling like you witnessed something special. What will YOU witness? Until you go, you’ll never know ….
I’ve heard people say “I should try to go to Africa …” For sure, there is always an excuse not to go. But as the wise Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
I’ll end by sharing a poem written by Matthew Sterne http://blog.rhinoafrica.com … it says it well.
This is Africa – A Poem (by Matthew Sterne)
Dawn in Africa and another set of tracks
Morning sun glinting off the hippos’ backs
Wild dogs running and hunting in packs
The thrill of the chase and the kill the climax
This is Africa, the cry of a fish eagle
The pomp of a warthog, tail up and regal
And down below the mighty dung beetle
Of the African wilderness, there can be no equal
This vast dusty continent is the place of dreams
Of morning mists and lone sunbeams
The quiet savanna more alive than it seems
And crocodile-laden rivers that began as mountain streams
There’s another leopard print fresh in the sand
And my heart beats louder than a brass band
I know this is Eden, the ultimate wonderland
Home to the world’s grandest wetland
Now a franklin runs scared in front of the vehicle
And a cheetah speeds past always unreachable
The roar of a lion to remind us he’s unbeatable
It’s as old as time yet still unbelievable
There’s another sign of life, an elephant scratching post
Some of these animals are as quiet as a ghost
Yet they’re all over these parts from coast to coast
And to the world’s greatest spectacle Africa plays the host
The warning call of an impala, the scent of a lion
They normally come at night under the belt of Orion
There’s the baobab and acacia and a small dandelion
My thoughts will never leave Africa though they’ve been trying
Just one more sunset is what I desire
Afternoons in the bush, nights by the fire
A drink in the hand and stories that inspire
It’s a land of passion, the great amplifier
You feel so alive, the opposite of numb
To the magic of Africa, I’ll always succumb
Its people and places have me under its thumb
And my heart will always beat to an African drum