This is my journal entry from our first day back home from Africa: “6:05am, 9/26/11 – Woke up this morning to sirens. Not the sounds of lions. Shortly after, it started raining.”
Cease, cows. For life is short.
-Gabriel García Márquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Just those three short sentences set against an otherwise empty, blank page. Nothing more. I keep staring at it. All the other entries in my journal are filled with page after page of notes, asides, and recollections of our trip. Sometimes I’d find myself awake in the middle of the night, listening to the lions roar, when some missed detail or other insight about the previous day would come to me and I’d switch on the nightstand light in our river tent, hoping it wouldn’t wake Kim, to furiously scribble down my thoughts before they faded back beyond my dimly lit recollection and into the dark. But in the weeks since returning, I’ve opened my journal to find that, sadly though not surprisingly, no other words have seemed fitting enough to pen; its emptiness a reflection of my own.
Our return trip was uneventful for the most part. Smaller prop planes exchanged for larger ones, with those then traded up for giant continent-hopping jetliners; a reversal of the winged Russian nesting dolls that opened up to bring us to Africa. Kim and I spent most of the two big legs of the journey alone and apart from each other, both literally and figuratively; lost in our experiences and trying to come to terms with the fact that we were headed in a direction and towards a place that we felt unsure about. A place that was, more and more, not feeling much like home any longer.
We landed in London just as the sun was coming up, and I couldn’t help but notice that its pale colors and dull glow matched both the people and the landscape it lords over. A poor, cold, and distant approximation of the majestic sunrises we got to enjoy in Africa. During the layover I ring up Mark Clayden: founder and bassist for Pitchshifter and This Is Menace, currently the college manager for the Bristol Institute of Modern Music, an old and very dear friend, and an all around ace human being. When the 18-year friendship with the person I chose to be the best man at my wedding began unraveling last year after some classless, cowardly, and completely self-absorbed actions on his part surrounding the wedding, Mark was there, literally, to give me a shoulder to lean on. He helped me keep my head on straight, focused on what the real issues were and what was important as far as an outcome. The first six months of my marriage to Kim were spent trying to repair the friendship with my best man; something that ultimately failed, leaving a deep anger in me that still burns for what he needlessly put us through. If it weren’t for the support and love of Kim and Mark, I’m not sure I would’ve gotten through it.
Like my wife, Mark is a very rare breed of person, and as with Kim I’m very lucky to know him. It’s an infrequent opportunity to catch up with him while we’re both in the same time zone, so I call and say hello. As I’m relating our African adventures I can hear his young daughter Amelie laughing in the background. They’re in a park flying kites, and Amelie can’t stop laughing loudly about how much fun she’s having. Mark apologies, unnecessarily. It lifts my spirits to hear Amelie’s innocence and unrequited joy. Mark knows that Seattle hasn’t felt like home to both me and Kim for some time now, for a long list of reasons, and he listens patiently as I express how I’m both enchanted and perplexed by my love for Africa. We were only there for a few short weeks, why does it have such a hold on my heart? Kim and I have traveled far and wide, both together and separately, and have visited some wonderful places; places that we longed to return to, places that we dreamed of working, living, and one day retiring in. I mean, who wouldn’t want to retire in the Tuscan countryside? So why then does Africa, with its mix of terrible ugly and sublime beauty, haunt us so? “Because,” Mark tells me, “it’s the place you’ve always known has been waiting for you. It’s just taken until now for you both to find it.” He reminds me that Kim and I spent over a year planning, preparing, and courting Africa; so it should come as no surprise, really, that on our first date with the continent we made that hoped-for amorous connection, finding ourselves asking each other, “Is this the one?” “As for Seattle,” he continues, “it may be home, but it’s not forever.”
It’s those last words of his that I find myself ruminating over at six in the morning on our first day back in Seattle, having been woken by something in the distance. As the sound pulls me from sleep I think at first I’m hearing the lions roaring up at BPG, but as I awaken and my ears slowly tune to the sound, I realize that it’s a distant siren and that I’m in my own bed, far removed from Africa and its wildlife. I listen as the siren wails its way towards some unknown tragedy, then I hear the rain start to fall; its pitter-patter knocking quietly against the window, reminding me that the sun has been replaced by clouds, the roar of lions by the screech of sirens. I think to myself, “Will this be forever?”
Family, friends, and co-workers all excitedly ask us for stories, and more insistently, for pictures. Kim and I feel we have a story we have to tell, so we talk and talk and talk about our adventures to whoever will listen; many times realizing only long after we’ve gone down our rabbit hole of storytelling that those we’ve sequestered are nodding along with our endless tales out of courtesy, and not so much from curiosity. They look at us with a mixture of amusement and disbelief, unconvinced that a month-long trip to Africa could have such a profound affect on us. I catch myself grasping the irony. Not so long ago, Kim and I gave the same sideways looks when talking with persons who had similarly found themselves in love with the continent. “First place where you’ve truly felt at home? Felt like you belonged there? Must go back at all costs? You, a fair-skinned, first-world Anglo-Saxon, insisting that there’s a siren’s call you must heed in the deep wilds of Africa? Sure. Yeah. Right.”
How do you explain what’s happened to you? How do you convey that, every day, the first thing you think of when waking is Africa, and the last thing you wish for as you’re falling asleep is to dream of lions? With those we’ve met and have kept in touch with since leaving Antelope Park, we’ve found ourselves part of a secret society that no one else quite comprehends. When we speak there is a passphrase only we understand, followed by a knowing nod and a murmur of acceptance. “Do you miss Africa as much as I do?” “Yes, I think about it every day.” How do you explain the chord that has been struck in you? Its sound in your ears a quiet-yet-constant hum; like a tuning fork forever turning your heart back towards the east, forever tuning it towards the roar of the lions. I think about these things and suddenly I realize that what I joked about with friends before leaving has actually come to pass: I’ve been eaten by lions. Milo really has devoured my heart.
As I desperately try to fit back in with first-world society and pretend that all the latest gadgets with their bells and whistles really do improve my quality of life, and if I just consumed more and more and more I’d be even happier, all I desperately want to do is find the means to return and never leave again. On the heels of these uncomforting realizations comes an email from Kirsty, the research intern for the Ngamo Pride who has also recently returned home to England and back to university. “Hope everything is well with you and Kim, and the sirens and rain aren’t too depressing. Remember: Africa is going nowhere and is awaiting your return.”
This may be home, but it’s not forever.
So, then: when is the next time?
As I write this, Kim and I are making plans to return in the coming year. Ita zano. There’s no avoiding it. My zip-off pants have not been burned. Instead, they’re packed and at the ready. We’re not quite sure how we can afford to do it, and we don’t yet know the details of the trip. All we know is that we must return. It’s in our blood and we can’t avoid the call, and we look forward to the possibility of reuniting with many of the friends we’ve met along the way: both human and animal.
What of the Ngamo and Dambwa Prides?
In the time since leaving AP and writing about our adventures there, much has happened within the Ngamo Pride. Both Phyre and Kenge gave birth to litters of three and four cubs, respectively. However, Athena began acting predatory towards both sets of cubs, something she’s apparently done in the past . After hearing the heartbreaking news that Kenge lost two of her cubs, and Phyre her entire litter, to a combination of Athena’s behavior and other circumstances, we got the even more sorrowful report that ALERT decided to permanently remove Athena from the Ngamo Pride and return her to Stage 1, which is BPG. It was also decided, however, that her daughter Wakanaka/AT1 would remain with the pride in Stage 2. It obviously was a very difficult decision to make, and the reasons behind it can be read in detail here. When taken on the whole, it’s a sensible decision. We’ve had further news that Athena has settled comfortably back in to life at BPG, and that Wakanaka has also integrated nicely with the remaining members of the pride; precociously showing her father Milo and her aunts who’s really the boss, as only she can. Ashanti has also given birth to a litter of cubs, and both mother and cubs are said to be happy, healthy, and doing just fine. In fact, both Ashanti and Kenge appear to have had their cubs successfully accepted by the other pride members. All good news! Finally for the Ngamo Pride: King Milo turned nine-years-old on December 7th. Six lionesses, five cubs, one amazing pride. Happy belated birthday, Milo! All hail the king!
Regarding the Dambwa Pride, we are happy to announce that this past weekend the pride’s lionesses – Kela, Kwandi, Leya, Loma, Rusha, and Temi – have finally been introduced to their own king: Zulu. Congratulations, Dambwa! All hail King Zulu!
With two fully integrated prides now in ALERT’s Stage 2 Lion Release Program, things are looking very, very good for the program’s ongoing success and, we also hope, for the success of lions in Africa as a whole. Words cannot convey what an honor and a privilege it was for me and Kim to participate in the program, and we can’t offer thanks enough for the experience, nor praise enough for the people involved. All hail ALERT!
And what of the blog?
Nigh on 50 posts, tens of thousands of words, and over a thousand pictures. A little difficult to just leave it all forgotten by the roadside, don’t you think? To that end, while we’re busy preparing for our next African adventure we plan on keeping the blog updated with the goings on of both the Ngamo and Dambwa prides, and other ALERT information we feel is worth sharing, as well as other animal conservation causes we hold close to our hearts. Our journey into marriage may have begun with an ask and a promise back in May of 2009, but our honeymoon adventure continues here.
Finally, when is forever?
That is a good question. Not soon enough! Every night I fall asleep hoping to dream of lions roaring, and every morning I wake hoping to find that I’m back in Africa and the dream has become real. Life is desperately short to spend it in a place, externally or internally, where you feel unhappy, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled. Home is where you get across. I’m reminded of a poem by Raymond Carver; and with its words clutched in one hand and my beautiful bride holding my other, every day is a step towards returning. Every day is a step towards forever.
Eeoww, sweetie. Eeoww.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
-Raymond Carver, “Late Fragment.”