Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa.  The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death.  That’s what infuses it with tension.  It is the essence of its tragedy too.  People love harder there.  Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal.  Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.

-Peter Godwin, “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun.”

Goodbye Paza

Goodbye Paza

It’s 5:45am – but I know that already because I’ve been dreading this moment our entire trip.  Our last day at Antelope Park.  This is the part of the story where I’d like to say that I spent the night dreaming of lions.  That King Milo came to see me, and beside the river outside our tent, amidst the roars of the other lions in his kingdom, we sat and talked about a great many things.  Secrets that the wind has shared with him that he’s now sharing with me.  That Wakanaka came up and, rubbing her head underneath Milo’s chin, turned to look at me while asking her father, “Does he have to leave, poppa?”  “Yes, beautiful one,” the lion king purrs in reply.  “But we will be holding his heart for him until he returns.”  Then, noticing the heart in my outstretched hands, she asks of the offering, “Will that make him sad not to have his heart?”  “Yes, very sad.  But also happy, because he will always know who he has left it with, and where he must journey to again in order to reclaim it.”  “Eeoww,” the cub says, her big ears and doll eyes framed beneath her father’s noble face as I slowly fade back from the dream and into wakefulness.

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Meet the Elephants, Finally!

You know, they say an elephant never forgets.  What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.

-Bill Murray, “Larger Than Life.”

Kim + Amai

Kim + Amai

I haven’t seen the Bill Murray movie this quote comes from, and it sounds like it was a bust at the box office, but the quote rings true nonetheless.  Elephants are beautiful, intelligent, emotional animals, and time spent with them is magical and memorable, as I will finally get to discover for myself.  Yesterday, during my and Craig’s “wish list” day, I went up to Lauren and asked her for yet one more wish: could she get me on the schedule with the elephants today, Sunday, our last day at Antelope Park?  I still haven’t spent any time with the elephants except for our one bust of an experience last week, and I tell Lauren I don’t care what the activity is just as long as I get to interact with the ellies.   I know we came here for the lions,  but I have a soft spot in my heart for elephants, and to leave AP without the opportunity to get up close and personal with them would be a big disappointment for me.

And so Craig and I are scheduled for an elephant ride during today’s late morning session.  I have mixed feelings about riding an elephant.  It’s something I’ve never done, and it seems like great fun and an incredible vantage point from which to view the world.  On the other hand, elephants in the wild do not transport humans on their backs and I’ve heard horror stories of abuse related to elephant rides.  (Most of the abuse stories I have read about take place in Southeast Asia, but it still makes me question the ethics of it.)  As I’ve never done anything like this, since even my first horse ride was on this trip, I decide to go ahead with it.  The bottom line is, the elephants at AP appear happy and very well taken care of, with plenty of opportunities to roam free and live like elephants should live, with the exception of the rides.  I’ll do it this time, and then decide what to do the next time I’m here, which at this point in our trip I’ve decided can’t be soon enough.

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Lucky Stars in Your Eyes

He unfolds himself in the storm clouds; he washes his mane in the blackness of the seething whirlpools.  His claws are in the forks of the lightning, his scales begin to glisten in the bark of rain-swept pine trees.  His voice is heard in the hurricane which, scattering the withered leaves of the forest, quickens a new spring.  The dragon reveals himself only to vanish.

-Okakura Kakuzō.

The Five Boys - Client Lion Feed

The Five Boys – Client Lion Feed

The wind has been howling incessantly through the night.  Whatever voice the lions might have given to their usual nocturnal roars have been stifled, and instead of the usual parade of vervet monkeys hopscotching across our tent, giant dragons have been jumping up and down on our roof and rattling its canvas walls with their bellowing, in an attempt to bring us, or at least our lodging, to its knees.  I’ll huff and I’ll puff… All the usual suspects that have been serenading us throughout the night over the two weeks we’ve been at Antelope Park have rolled up in front of the storm.  Even Silver Dime and his stable of horses aren’t anywhere to be found as we unzip our tent and head out for the morning session.  The wind, and especially the lack of lions roaring, has put me on edge.  We only have two days left at AP, and the inevitable pull of having to leave this place has left me feeling unsettled.  I’m not good with goodbyes, and I’m especially unhappy to be nearing the end of this leg of our African journey.

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The Sound of One Woman Hammering

If I had a hammer / I’d hammer in the morning / I’d hammer in the evening / All over this land / I’d hammer out danger / I’d hammer out a warning / I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters / All over this land.

-Peter, Paul, and Mary, “If  I Had a Hammer.”

Silver Dime outside our river tent (16 Sept 2011)

Silver Dime outside our river tent (16 Sept 2011)

As we walk out of our tent this morning, we look out at our lovely view and see Silver Dime in the river.  The scene is so picturesque, and yet it’s with a heavy heart that we walk over to the vol lounge.  We know our days here are numbered.  We’re trying not to think about it and just enjoy every minute of our remaining time at Antelope Park, but it’s hard not to think in terms of  “lasts.”  Will this be the last time I see Silver Dime during one of our last mornings on our way to one of our last cub walks?  This feeling is further fueled when we cross the road between the kitchen and vol block and see a couple of staff members seeing off Michael.  He is the first of our group to leave and, despite his quirks, it’s sad to say goodbye.  He did provide us with loads of amusement, and it’s a reminder that we too will be leaving in just a few days and saying our goodbyes.  As we near the vehicle Michael is loading his luggage into, Craig reaches out to shake his hand and wish him safe travels.  Despite what Craig has written, and unlike some other vols, I think he’ll miss Michael.  Much to his surprise, Michael takes Craig’s hand in both of his and gives it an earnest shake.  We wish him well, and then head off to take Penya and Paza out for a walk.

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The Forecast

What’s the forecast today?  Rice, potatoes, some vegetables (probably carrots and peas, or maybe creamed spinach), chicken or beef (or chicken and beef), salad, and some dessert.

You might think that when traveling to Africa you may lose a little weight.  You certainly aren’t concerned about gaining weight.   It’s not like going to Italy, where you know you’re going to gorge yourself on pasta and gelato, washed down with copious amounts of wine.  But thank goodness we were engaged in daily physical labor and long walks in the hot sun, because in the heart of Zimbabwe we ate like kings and queens.

Just a few decades ago, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Africa.  With an abundance of arable land and farmers who knew how to work it, the country produced enough food to feed its population and export the remainder to the rest of southern Africa.  Not so today.  With land resettlement policies having dispersed farmland to new owners, and most of those new owners lacking the interest, skills, or money to buy supplies, food production has come to a standstill.  Zimbabwe now imports almost all of its food and other goods which explains the extraordinary high prices in the supermarkets: $11 for a box of cereal, US$6 for a four-pack of toilet paper, US$5 for three small cucumbers.  And remember, Zimbabwe has 94 percent unemployment.  Salaries of the hard-working Antelope Park lion handlers are US$150 a month.  How in the world do people pay for food here?

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It’s an Ugly Thing, This Killing Business

If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.

Kahlil Gibran

Early morning encounter (EME) with the MK's

Early morning encounter (EME) with the MK’s

It’s a little before 4:30am and Kim and I are standing in the road mid-way between the vol lounge and the dining hall, bundled up and trying to keep warm while waiting to leave on an early morning encounter, when Gillian walks up looking miserable and dejected.  She was on the night encounter that went out last evening and apparently the group of lions they took out caught a young duiker (a very small antelope species), and spent 20 minutes batting it around between the vehicles, slowly taking their time killing it while the duiker squealed and tried to find an avenue of escape between the vehicles.  All this while the volunteers and clients looked on aghast.  I guess I’m surprised to hear that so many were mortified to witness the grim killing of game up close – perhaps not fully realizing until now that hunting in nature is rarely the muted and friendly scenes presented on NatGeo, and watching a kill is what they all went out in the hopes of seeing.  But Gillian then starts telling us about another incident that also happened during last night’s encounter involving the horses up at the main house.

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A Buddhist Lesson in the Zimbabwe Midlands

We’re in the van with Nathan, who has just picked us up at the bus stop in Gweru, where we’ve just arrived from Harare.  As we’re making the short drive to Antelope Park, he tells us there are two phrases we will hear a lot that we need to know.  He first asks if we know what “TIA” means.  I instinctively raise my hand.  “Ooh ooh, I know!  TIA means: This Is Africa.”  I first heard this term while watching the movie Blood Diamond several years ago.  Even though I’ve heard varying opinions on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Zimbabwean accent (mixing up accents from Zimbabwe and South Africa gets a similar scowl as those who mix up British and Australian accents), it’s still a fine movie.  It’s also, perhaps, quite relevant as Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is in control of a recently discovered diamond field that is said to be so chock-full of the stuff it’s a “freak of nature.”

I immediately liked this phrase and what it meant, or at least how I interpreted it, and I actually took to using it myself but changed it to “This Is Architecture.”  I never said it out loud to anyone, but it was often in my head.  To me, TIA, regardless of whether it’s Africa or architecture, is about acceptance and understanding that this is how things are, and to put your expectations of how you think things ought to be on pause.  In architecture, I would silently repeat this mantra, especially during periods of working 60-70 hours a week on deadlines.  There wasn’t anything I could do.  This is the profession I’ve chosen: it’s not me, it’s not the firm I work for, it’s not my client.  This Is Architecture.  Now, how am I going to get through it?

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Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way

If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.

-Abraham Lincoln

Laili ("by night") + Lewa ("beautiful")

Laili (“by night”) + Lewa (“beautiful”)

We’re up a little earlier this morning, having been scheduled for a long lion walk with the L’s – a six hour trek through the bush that allows the cubs to spend some proper time exploring their surroundings and honing their hunting instincts.  Backpack filled with a breakfast consisting of an apple, a packet of potato chips, water, and a tomato and cheese sandwich, we head out to greet Lewa and Laili and begin our morning trek across the wilds of Antelope Park as the rest of camp comes to life.

It’s also an extra special morning as Kim has in hand her honeymoon gift.  Finally.  All the secret meetings resulting in quizzical stares and hard questions from the wife have finally paid off and Kim is clutching a custom lion walking stick made by Jabulani.  About a meter in length, the top is carved with JB’s initials, a stick figure representing him, and “2011.”  Down one side of the stick’s length is carved the names of the four cubs, separated by lion paws, and on the other JB has spelled out, “Kim + Graig – famba ne shumba.”  Kim + Graig?  That’s right: “Graig.”

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Dear Virginia

Dear Virginia*,

Kwazuwai!  Wakadini?  Dayube?  Tiripo, tatenda.  Ndiri kufara, shamwari.  Africa, chakanaka!  Ndi nokuda, Africa.  Seattle… chakashata, suwa.  Makadini, shumba?  Penya, Paza, Lewa, Laili, Wakanaka, Milo!  Fambe ne shumba, chakanaka!  Wakanaka shumba!  Ini potsa fambe ne shumba.  Ini ita zano.  Eee!  Hey Virginia, unga tamba nenei heri?  Ha, ha!  Urikusaykay!  Ha!  Tinenge takakumirira pakare.  Wosara zvakanakaso.  Chisirei!


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Famba ne Shumba

Penya (Paza in the background)

Penya (Paza in the background)

It never ceases to amaze me how glorious the mornings are here at Antelope Park.  Today, we wake up to see the horses enjoying the river across from our tent.  I see Silver Dime and give him a silent “thank you” for the lovely day we spent together yesterday.  We take this picturesque scene as a good omen for the day ahead, which we’re really excited about, because after two days without spending any time with the lions, our morning today begins with a walk with Paza and Penya.  Famba ne shumba, “walk with lions.”

It’s a hot, lazy morning for the P’s and they spend most of the time posing on boulders for us.  But we’re happy.  It’s just good to be outside in the beautiful morning light with two gorgeous, camera-ready lion cubs.  We’re never quite sure what the cubs will be like in the morning.  On the one hand, they’ve had all night to sleep, and the nights and early mornings are usually cool, so sometimes they bound out of their enclosure with energy to spare.  Other times, it’s clear they’ve been awakened earlier than their internal alarm clock and all they want to do is find a place to nap.  Either way, it’s beneficial to get the cubs out in the bush.  The more time they spend out of their enclosure, the better prepared they will be for life as part of a release pride.

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