I just returned from a trip to South Africa with my two sons. I wish I could do it over again, not to change anything or do it differently. Yet..if only I could experience the whole epic adventure again..and again..and again.
In the meantime I’ve brought Africa back with me.
By that I mean I’m intending Peace–the peace that happens when you have nothing you have to do except watch a hippo slowly walk across the sand, one huge foot at a time, and slowly lower itself into the Letaba River. The hippo will stay submerged in the cool water like this all day with only its two round humps of eyes showing and you can stay too, just watching, just being there. Or wherever you are right now, watching hippo eyes.
I’m intending Happiness, the feeling you had as a child, the kind that makes you laugh at anything, like when you turn the corner and come upon a group of six young African maids in crisp, laundered uniforms at the foot of the stairs in a Polokwane hotel. They laugh aloud when you tell them they look pretty, and say you look pretty too, making tears come to your own eyes then and whenever you remember that hot morning, that corner of the stairs, those lovely dark faces laughing with you.
I’m intending Awe, the majestic sensation of watching a pride of lions saunter by in a line. You count them one-by-one, ten lions in all, pacing intentionally and very slowly along a grassy ridge at dusk. “They’re hunting,” says the expert Kruger Park guide. “The females are taking the young males out for their first hunt.” You realize you aren’t breathing and make yourself take a breath. You can do it now. Just breathe.
And finally Gratitude, the abject gratefulness of a privileged American, getting what Africans have in their bones, their acceptance of life, of how close we are, all of us, to each other and to the animals. How amazing to realize we both love and protect our offspring. You know that when you repeatedly see adult elephants, giraffes, and white rhinos in the bush hover over those fabulous curious babies of theirs. You watch the adults stay close to their young, guiding them away from the road and you, sitting in rented cars, jeeps and SUVs, exclaiming and holding out your cameras or cell phones, attempting to to capture it all forever.
I’m bringing back Africa with me. Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. How fortunate I am it was mine.