I have been to Africa seven times and have visited 10 of its 38 countries. My companions on this Ugandan trip—all but one of them women (the sole male is the organizer so he doesn’t count)—have been as often as I, others more. None of them can lay a glove on me when it comes to being jaded. I spend a good deal of my game drive time asleep. This bothers Nancy. It is not enough that she drags me to Africa. She insists that I pay attention.
My women companions, on the other hand, are as alert as puppy dogs in a pet shop window. At the first sighting of an oribi, one of the women cries out, “Look. It’s an oribi.”
We stop. Out come the cameras. After an orgy of clicking, off we go. Three minutes later, we come upon another oribi.
“Oh, look. It’s an oribi,” exclaims another.
We stop. Out come the cameras. More clicking. Off we go. Five minutes pass.
“Oh, look. It’s an oribi.”
I feel as if I am watching Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie in which the hero wakes up each day to the same day.
Obviously the women are able to treat each sighting as if it were the first. That is a gift. I can’t do it. From where I sit, mostly dozing in the front seat of the land cruiser, if you have seen one oribi, you have seen them all.
That goes for elephants, cobs, saddle bill storks and, yes, all those incessantly busy little bee eaters with their black masks, yellow throats, green bodies and blue swallow tails.
That was an ill-tempered remark. I apologize. I wrote it at a time when I had not been sleeping all that well. I know why. It was the Lariam, the malaria pills that I took daily. Hallucinations are a possible side effect. I was hallucinating in my sleep. My dreams were very vivid. I remember one especially. I was in a grand mansion with a grandiose staircase that swirled up and out of sight. The balustrades were of white marble trimmed in blue, like the sky into which they disappeared. In the dream I am mounting the staircase, one step at a time, only I am not walking.
I am in a land cruiser.
I find it hard to stay awake in a moving vehicle whether I’m in Africa or eastern Massachusetts. Thanks to the game drives I can make up for some of my Lariam lost sleep.
On the afternoon of the mansion in the sky dream, our organizers gave us a choice of returning at 2pm or 4pm. Uncharacteristically, Nancy chose the earlier time. She felt that I was bored to death and wanted to save me from more of the same. I love her for that. But the plain truth is that I am quite happy to sit in the front seat of our land cruiser, drifting in and out of consciousness, awakened by someone’s shouting “Oh, look. It’s an oribi.” only to be lulled back into a half dream of my land cruiser climbing palace steps into an unknown sky.
When we reached camp that afternoon, it was dreadfully hot. Nancy convinced me to put on a bathing suit and join her in the pool. I was reluctant. My body is an old man’s body, pasty white and sagging. Still I didn’t want to say no after Nancy sacrificed two hours in the bush on my behalf. I am glad I didn’t. The pool was refreshing. A staff member brought me a Nile Special. I sat in the shallow end, half submerged like a rotting log, drinking this marvelous beer, beating the heat and thinking to myself, “Eat your heart out, Donald Trump.”
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