Even longer than the road to the safari, is the journey it took to get there. Our first night “glamping” was rough. I put my faith in the Father Almighty and wrapped the thick sheets around me to shield my skin from the impending cold. How dare it be this cold? In Africa, how dare it be in the low 60s?
After dinner I sat with a young Kenyan girl ( not of the Maasai) and a young guy, who was Maasai and talked about my different hairstyles over the past couple of months (since before dinner I had decided to “snatch” my curly wig off before entering the dining hall).
They introduced themselves as Mary and Daniel. I learned quickly that these were pseudonyms. When I initially saw Daniel standing at the entrance of the camp, his face was young yet very serious. All the prejudgments I had of him faded away when he told me his birth name: Sameri, which meant kind one. We all sat around a small fire until it started to die. Anyways, the lights would be shut off for the night in the next 30 minutes so I headed to my tent to sort my belongings for the night.
I was fast asleep in my bed (because hello, jetlag) until in the middle of the night I heard my friend whisper “babygirl?” She was terrified that some animal was scratching and sniffing, trying to enter our tent. Besides a concrete ground and a slab of heavy wood sealing our tent, I entertained the possibility that something could get in and the possibility that i was just paranoid. I figured if I tried to quickly make her feel better through assurance, I would be back to sleep soon. It had been a long day and we had to be up by 5am.
FAIL! I soon heard her breathing heavy and crying. We had spent the entire night reminiscing about college and her wedding and our friends and family.
At one point, we had gotten the courage to get out of our beds only once, heavily armored with the eerie glow from our phone’s flashlights. We quickly unzipped the back of the tent that led to a dark bathroom.
Next thing I knew it was 4am before we both agreed we were too exhausted to even care if something got in, and fell asleep. Because after all, ignorance is bliss right?
Morning of the Safari:
I woke with a start an hour later and played Bob Marley and the Wailers to sing in the shower. No doubt everyone at the site could hear me…The two girls from Japan backpacking around the world to my right…Mo from Egypt and Mike from D.C to the left.
Later that morning, Mike and Mohammed told us that something did indeed get into their tent, but it was merely a kitten that they found under one of their beds that morning.
Running behind as usual, the lights had already been shut off for the morning since the sun was already rising. I was trying to blindly gel my edges down and adjust my wig but with only 5 minutes to grab breakfast, I threw the wig down, sprinkled a bit of water on my afro, zipped up my suitcase and ran to grab what was actually a better breakfast than anticipated.
Actually, I really didn’t know what to expect for break fast in Kenya. The only other place I had been in the Motherland was Nigeria and I didn’t get any pancakes, I can say that much.
Ya’ll the camp had pancakes sprinkled with a hint of cinnamon. I guzzled some of the (also tantalizing) eggs while simultaneously assembling sausages, each individually wrapped in a pancake because, well, food is important.
Alex, our driver and our two other male friends were already by the van and I learned something absolutely astonishing in that moment.
“ no worries, women running late is universal, that’s why I gave you an earlier time than scheduled so you’d make it.”
I could’ve cried I was laughing so hard, especially since Mo, who is from Egypyt agreed.
We drove to the gates of the Masaai Mara reserve and was greeted with winding, bumpy, unpaved roads that crisscrossed through some of the most intense plains (definitely not a trip for those who get severe motion sickness). Miles and stretches of grassland and shrubs was the view in every direction. What started off as never seeing a zebra EVER in my life, then to seeing four, lead to having our van surrounded by them for miles in every direction among the also common wildebeest.
Fun fact, November is when wildebeest migrate through Kenya, so if you want that Simba running for his life, Lion King effect, I’d save your safari experience for around that time.
And before you say it, no animals were hurt during the making of that pun.
I kept checking google maps to see when we would cross the border into Tanzania because we were extremely close for miles on end but the day was still early.
The air was still a cool 69 degrees, dry and crisp and the sun was beginning to warm up parts of my skin. The early morning was good to me. We saw African elephants and I tried to compare their large size to the Asian elephant I had saw in Thailand. A lot of people, albeit surprising to me, were excited at the idea of riding African elephants…
In my Dexter’s laboratory voice;
“Did you know that actually you can’t ride African elephants?”
The Serengeti was astonishing in natural and rugged quality. A place where risks could be reward. From the lone cheetah that sat under a leadwood tree for shade, eyeballing a warthog and swishing it’s tale back and forth, to the three lions that sat around their kill; a wildebeest with the entirety of one side of its face chewed off.
From the first time on the plains the night before, I imagined it being a mere 100 years ago. With my eyes closed, I saw traditional tribes, such as the Masaai calling the vastness home. They learned it, cultivated on it and understood it. Without fear. They walked the land, or even ran (because, well ya’ll know the Kenyans are known for their long distance runners!)
Meanwhile, here I am in this open roof van intimidated by the family of baboons eyeballing me like one would do the new neighbors in a gentrified neighborhood. The biggest one was just waiting for me to make eye contact so he could come over the side of the van and snatch my camera from around my neck, I could feel it. His mouth was shaped in a perfect circle.
Does anyone else give animals voices and dialogues?
Baboon: OOhhhhhh so you set trippin’ huh. What you doing out here girl?
The idea of my ancestors, most likely having come from Ghana and possibly never coming close to east Africa, still held a presence in this land and in my heart. I couldn’t help catching myself staring outside the van’s windows, smiling.
In this vast home we call Earth, I felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
We had a pit stop at a small outdoor market of maybe 15 vendors selling similar, tribal inspired jewelry and masks. Though they were all beautiful, I did not buy anything. I’m always so hesitant to buy souvenirs if I can’t connect its sentimental value.
So, I decided to wait until the next morning where would, finally, visit a Masaai village and I could actually talk to the souls and people who lived on the land I had be trekking for nearly 24 hours.
We continued on with our long drive past more animals than I could remember, in one setting, until my bladder was bursting at the seams. Knock on wood but I can see myself at forty-five having to wear a diaper the way my bladder is set up. Its ridiculous but here’s where the next adventure started. Our driver told us we still had nearly forty more minutes until we reached a picnic area where we could have lunch and use the bathroom.
“Phew, Alex I’m not going to make it 40 minutes, maybe not even ten.” All shame was out the door in the van of eight strangers . Thankfully I wouldn’t have wanted any other group to experience this trip with.
We’re in the middle of the wilderness surrounded yet again by hordes of wildebeest and Zebras. I felt like I was in a scene out of one of my favorite books; “A Girl Named Disaster”. Our driver stops and allows those of us in need to take a quick leak behind the van. As I was there, ass to grass in a low squat, a cool breeze in my face, making eye contact with a random zebra, I never really felt myself to be one with nature as much as I did in that moment. I was back there hyping myself up like “yassssss look how far you’ve come!”
Me: “why yes, I relieved myself on the Serengeti whilst making eye contact with a wild animal a mere few feet away.