We entered the Serengeti late yesterday afternoon. Dusty roads, endless plains with nary an acacia. Tis a wide open brown deck as far as the eye can see...I have no idea what the limit of the human sight is on a clear day...but it was breached...I was looking at infinity. And at that infinity a blue canopy touched down forming a neat seamless connection, like a saucer balanced lightly on a cup of tea.
"Welcome to the Serengeti" the sign on the arch read....literally in the middle of nowhere. We stopped and posed for selfies. Before this gate was emptiness and after it was emptiness. ..But at that carefully chosen dot in this expanse we had entered the Serengeti! We had entered a frontier of the animals where at best we were equal to them. Aside from the questionable protection of a Toyota Landcruiser we had little to ward off an attack even by a crazed timone or pumba!!!
The sun sets as we drive to our camp and I realize that that we are in the 'Lion King' poster...the orange sun is hanging just over the artistic, gnarled flat-top acacia, dark shaded mountains are in the distance while antelope, buffalo and zebra dot the landscape. Tonite we sleep in a tent in the wild...a fabric home held together by velcro and zippers. Something which doesn't promise to keep the wind and rain out was going to be our separation from the wild local herds and carnivores. ...but we didn't quite perceive this truth yet...and ignorance was blissful! So we slept like babies at the Serengati Kati Kati camp after a drink by the campfire.
Flat on his back.
“I will pick you up on my shoulder and carry you down the hill if I have to” says Fern to Dad who lies flat on his back in the brush, under an acacia tree halfway up the look-out hill at the entrance of the Serengeti in Tanzania. He’s climbed too quickly up the hill and despite help from Fern and I he’s unable not only to walk any further but chooses to lie down to recover his senses. This is not what Dad does. He does not lie down in the mud and brush…so I know this is serious. I am worried. He is dizzy and worried. He asks for a sip of water and I whip around to ten year-old Tess who is walking past us with her water bottle hanging at her waist. I ask her and she looks down at her water bottle horrified as any American kid would be. She’s thinking "A stranger asking for a drink from ‘my water bottle’? Unsanitary, eeeeuuuuu, no way!" She begs our forgiveness but suggests with adult urgency and good sense that she will run down the hill and bring water. I shake my head and say to myself “C’mon kid, sharing that bottle won’t kill you”, but all I say its ‘Thanks’ and look away. Fern is now waving his large hat in Dad’s sleeping face to cool him down. I stare at Dad’s prone face thinking how puffy his face looks and wondering why i hadn’t noticed it before. Minutes later Tess reappears bounding up the rock path, panting wildly but with all the focus and urgency of an ER nurse. She hands me the bottle, gives dad a sip of water, flashes a businesslike smile that says, “What I did was no big deal, but is he ok?”
Dad turns to her even as he sits up and thanks her. I take her hand and say what comes to me without forethought. “Thank you Tess. You did amazing. Continue to always do what you just did…urgently help out anyone who’s in trouble”.
And just like that Tess from San Diego California is gone.
Meanwhile Fern has pulled out his high tech cooling bandana and wrapped it around Dad’s head after soaking it. Dad is on his feet now. Fern walks alongside Dad one arm around his waist and leads him down the hill calling out one step and instruction at a time. “Put your right foot on that rock, your left on this one, keep your foot sideways, ….., let me go first so i can take your weight if you fall….hold my hand…don’t rush...now follow me”.
And just like that Fern from Wayne New Jersey is there to take care of Dad when he is down and almost out!.
Someone was looking out for Dad this afternoon on the Serengeti. Two angels were deployed.
The Grace of the Serengeti
This feels like a small NYC apartment with one room and two closets, one for the bathroom and one the kitchen. Actually it is a one family tent in a Kati-kati camp on the Serengeti... the endless plain of Africa. Its past 10pm and this encampment should be dark but the full moon tonight is out and showing off in style. No cloud dares to challenge its ethereal dominance so it bathes our row of tents, our vehicles and the wild herds of the Serengeti in its grace. The fire in the pit outside has almost died like the after-dinner conversation and the generators are turned off in deference to the lifestyle of the owners of this land, the wilder-beast and lion.
Flashlight in hand I leave tent #2 to enjoy a Cuban cigar under the stars with my neighbor Fern in tent #3. We sit outside in the opaque darkness admiring the dark silhouette of the flat-top African Acacia tree against the chalkboard sky, listening to the noises coming out of the forest and the footsteps of unseen wild animals imagined or real. We talk as middle-aged friends do about life and kids and love and faith. It is a conversation that is personal and intimate in its detail yet timeless and classic in its content. We find that we are brothers in this journey across the Serengeti of life. Our homes are no more than ten miles apart in New Jersey and yet we’ve journeyed across the Atlantic and into the Serengeti of Africa to forge this friendship.