The problem with all things man-made, is that there’s always something else similar. Every place, every city, every town – there was always bound to be something about it that would remind me of some other place. A beautiful gothic church in one European city would remind me of that other gorgeous cathedral in another. An incredible restaurant would inevitably draw comparisons to that other one in another cosmopolitan hub. Even the soothing greens of a park would bring to mind the other green(er) space in that other part of the world.
But there is absolutely nothing like being out in the African Bush. That experience is truly peerless, and unique in every way. Respect is commanded and awe is just about the only appropriate response.
“You’ll be completely safe so long as you stay within the vehicle.” These are scant words of comfort when one is mere metres from such unbridled power. Every attempt at photography I made with my arms stiffly pinned to my sides, for fear of having a limb overstep the confines of the vehicle. Each time an animal turned towards me, I avoided eye contact like a teenage girl at her first party. One of the giant cats that we are observing gets up on her powerful legs and stalks purposefully towards us. A lady in my jeep squeaks, and the ranger again seeks to reassure her of her safety. Much doubt continues to linger in my mind. These animals are, by their very definition, wild. I wouldn’t dare predict with certainty what my own mother would have for dinner tomorrow, much less anticipate what this approaching lioness is about to do. Have we arrogant humans really become so self-assured in our powers of research, statistics, and analytics, that we profess to fully know the behaviour of these wild creatures? Granted, these game drives were conducted thrice a day, every day. Data is carefully collected, then studied and analysed, and finally distilled into a statistic. Such is the superior intelligence of the Homo sapiens. But what good is the extraordinary human brain and the laws of math and science when you can be ripped apart in seconds by these fearsome cats?
My eyes stray to the shotgun well within easy reach of the ranger, ready to be grabbed and fired within seconds. The sight of the cold metal was somewhat reassuring, yet made me feel ashamed. I felt almost like an unwelcome visitor, riding uninvited into the spaces of these noble animals. Imagine having a stranger stalk boldly into your home, observing you as you went about your daily feeding and mating habits. And then imagine the injustice that is you being shot in your own home, if you should so attack at an instance of feeling threatened.
Who knew so much beauty could be found in the absence of so much, and in the stark nakedness of the land, where the sunsets are completely raw in their stunning reds and golds. It is a humbling experience, observing these majestic creatures as they are, and as they were meant to be in this untamed environment. Every swish of an elephant’s tail, the angry wails from a rhinoceros, the curious head of a giraffe popping up between the trees, the crunching sounds from a leopard snacking on its newest kill and a hyena waiting patiently beneath the tree to pick up the scraps. It hit me hard then, that the circle of life is as inevitable as the next sunrise.