Chapter 0: Prelude
I have been asked a million times. Why Zambia? And as I paid for my expensive flight, I asked myself a million times. Why Zambia? My first stop in Livingstone, the land of wannabe backpackers with laptops and iPods, strategically positioned tattoos, and ‘I dont care, but I do care’ attitudes. My second stop, Lusaka, a place with nothing of interest even to the most curious.
And then I flew to Luangwa.
I rode a tiny plane with an hour’s worth of bumpy riding to the middle of nowhere. As we landed, the plane came to a harsh halt. A herd of impala was crossing the runway. A lady ran to welcome us to Mfuwe, and led me out of the airport where kids played football in the midst of some bush. It looked like the local football clubs had a huge following. At least among the deer and the warthogs. It hit me. After traveling for so long in the African continent, I had finally reached Africa.
Chapter 1: Home
8pm. I am guided to my tent by a man who has never been more than two kilometres from where he was born. His torch barely lights up the path. There’s a swishing sound from the grass. Was it a snake, or was it the wind? I can’t tell – except I don’t feel the wind blowing on my face.
My sagging sense of observation is suddenly awakened by a loud grunt about ten metres from me. Gah, it’s just the resident hippo, incorrigible in his mating endeavor. We hear the elephants breaking branches ahead of us. Diligently we get off the path and walk through the grass, in the direction of my tent.
I unzip my tent, crouch, and dutifully remind myself to conduct my regular checks. The hole in the mesh is still blocked, that’s a good sign. But the magazine I leaned flimsily against the gaping hole in the back has slid off, so I set it up again. My mind begins to wander – why has the magazine slid from its designated spot? The ground is even, and the magazine isn’t heavy. Did the snake from the morning make its way into my tent, thereby displacing the magazine? I shut my eyes to force such thoughts out of my head. It is impossible to sleep when your mind is seeking signs of a trespassing snake.
I keep the light on to keep the elephants away from my tent. Although no one believes this, I maintain that elephants stay away from lit tents. The moths break through my tender blockades and make a dash for the only light in the vicinity. I try to ignore them so I can fall asleep, but the frogs come bouncing in, in hot pursuit of the moths. I curse. I don’t want any snakes coming in, chasing the frogs. After the close call with a curious green mamba in Livingstone, I was pretty much done with snakes for the rest of my life.
Lights off. I’d rather take on elephants than snakes. Toss. Turn. Toss. Turn. This is my second sleepless night, the first one ruined by the horny hippo stomping around my tent. For a wannabe wildlife expert who grew up in cities scared of domestic lizards, it is hard to sleep when a hippo, a croc, lethal snakes and a whole herd of hungry elephants are lurking nearby, barely separated by a layer of linen that wouldn’t hold against a human punch, leave alone a passionate animal.
I give up and force myself out of bed. This is war. This is redemption. This is the preceding moment that will define my wildlife escapades of the future.
I have to face the grass. And all that it brings with it.
I crouch, unzip my tent, reset the magazine with two fingers and walk alone in the darkness back to civilization.
Fifteen minutes later, I tried to be unsurprised about still being alive. I browse through a narrow collection of books. I couldn’t more randomly have found a more appropriate book to keep me company over the next few days. The Trouble With Africa.