Wednesday, December 9, 2009
An African Tale
AKA: "Wherein Young Miss Keetha Looks a Charging Bull Elephant Right in the Eyes and Lives to Tell the Story, Albeit Thirty-Seven and a Half Years Later"
When I was eighteen and looked strangely like the above photo, except by the time this story happened I had cut my hair quite short, I went on a 7 week long missions trip to Africa.
There were 16 of us. I had never met any of the others before. One day I just got on a plane in Wisconsin, flew to O'Hare airport in Chicago where I nearly met with disaster - - - but that is a story for another day - - - and from there flew to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia I met the other 15 people who were on our "team." After a weekend of getting to know each other and working out what types of ministry things we could "do," all of us hopped on a plane and flew to Africa.
We spent about two weeks each in Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zambia.
Nearly everywhere we went, we traveled from place to place in 15 passenger vans that looked an awful lot like this one. Sometimes we had two vans, sometimes we squished into one. All of us. Sometimes our luggage too.
Zambia was our last country-of-call.
While there, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, a great little missionary couple, decided we needed to take a mini vacation and travel into a Game Reserve. Fortunately, Zambia has a WONDERFUL National Park called Kafue (Ka-foo-ee). We went to the park to spend the better part of two days and one night.
That's when our adventure began.
During the day, we drove through the reserve on narrow winding dirt trails (today they'd be called ATV trails - - - but we didn't know what an ATV WAS in those days) looking for wild things.
And we found a plethora of them. Wildebeest, Impala, Wart Hogs, Zebra, Giraffe, Crown Cranes, multiple species of deer. But we weren't having any luck finding elephants. It became an obsession - - - we HAD to find some elephants.
Now, on this particular trip, so that we could enjoy the sight seeing without being all squished together in one fifteen passenger van, Mrs. Jones drove their tiny Peugeot subcompact wagon following the van.
I call it a wagon - - - but really - - - it was like a Mini Cooper. It had just enough room for two in the front seat (Mrs. Jones and our coach's wife), two in the back seat(Jerry and Larry), and one in the WAY back cargo area (uh, that would be ME.)
I don't know how it happened, but somehow on those winding little ATV trails we, in the tiny Peugeot, got separated from the van. So, for the better part of a morning, we five adventurers were on our own - - - still searching for the elusive elephants.
Jerry and Larry were not content to merely sit in their back seat and look out the windows. They craved a BETTER view, so for MUCH of the day they sat in the open windows on either side of the car with their chest and shoulders outside, elbows perched on the Peugeot roof, cameras in hand, legs inside, feet resting on the seats. Jerry in a bright red shirt. Larry in bright yellow.
We traveled thusly for I know not how long.
Suddenly, Mrs. Jones stopped the car - - - and with the engine idling, pointed over to our right across a field. There, just barely showing in the clearning, but far enough away to look very small was a herd of elephants. It looked to be a family group with adults and calves.
We were elated!!! We were ecstatic!! Elephants!!! Even though they were far away.
The car was still idling. Didn't seem necessary to me, but I wasn't driving.
One elephant, a large bull, was a little closer to us than the rest of the herd, and he turned to watch us - - - we thought that was GREAT!!! Our excitement levels began to rise.
The car was still idling. Mrs. Jones, who was infinitely wiser than the rest of us in the the ways of the African bush, began to get a bit nervous and thought about putting the little Peugeot in gear. I am SO glad it was she who was driving and NOT one of us.
Mr. Elephant decided we were a threat to his family, and that he would chase us off. He began to charge toward us.
Mrs. Jones, who is now thoroughly concerned for our welfare began to try to get the car in gear and drive away.
Jerry and Larry are still hanging out of the car, displaying their reds and yellows, snapping pictures. (Later in the lodge we read "never wear red or yellow around elephants as these colors may excite them." NOW they tell us)
Mr. Elephant isn't having any trouble getting moving toward us, and he is moving fast. Did you know they can move fast??? I mean, THEY MOVE FAST. They look cumbersome and slow - - - but don't you believe it!
Mrs. Jones has now gotten Peugeot into gear, but the tires are spinning in circles on the loose dry sand of the ATV trail. We are only inching forward.
Mr. Elephant is blasting toward us.
We are still spinning our wheels.
Mr. Elephant has crossed two thirds of the distance. We look like a little cream puff to him, and he is ready to stomp us.
Peugeot finally begins to move forward, but Mr. Elephant is a wiley old coot and as we move forward, he angles forward to cut us off.
I am still sitting in the cargo hatch, trying to remember how to breathe.
Little Peugeot shoots past Mr. Elephant who falls right in behind us, GAINING ground with each passing moment.
This is what I see as I look out the back of the Peugeot:
I looked into the depths of those eyes, and I didn't like what I saw - - - no sirree bob - - - I didn't like it at all.
I can't remember what I did in those moments.
I think I just froze.
I do remember wondering if we were all going to die, or if I alone, being in the "way back" would be singled out for that honor.
Just when I was about to breathe my last - - - the ATV trail took a sharp turn to the left. Little white Peugeot took the left hand turn (on two wheels I'm sure), Mr. Elephant barreled on - - - straight ahead.
Our lives were spared.
I lived to write this blog post, thirty-seven and a half years later.
Badly shaken, we headed back to the lodge and lunch. As we pulled in, we saw that the van and it's crew had beaten us back. We tumbled out of our Peugeot and hurried in with our terrifying news.
Not one soul of that entire van crowd would BELIEVE us.
Mr. Jones had told them, "I know my wife - - - she will have them come in here with a wild elephant story, and don't any of you believe it."
Now, I gotta tell you - - - at least ONE of the girls in that van crowd had "gullible" stamped right across her forehead. I mean, she had believe that Jerry had a wooden leg, even after TOUCHING it. But would she believe our elephant story???? NO.
We were sooooo frustrated. We expected sympathy. We got jeers of disbelief.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity to us, Mr. Jones saw something on his wife's face which caused him to believe.
Yes, Mr. Jones, there really WAS an elephant.
After lunch, one of the van crowd insisted on joining us in the Peugeot. I guess he figured we would have better luck finding elephants than the van.
Guess where he rode?
Oh yes - - - he packed in the "way back" with me. It was crowded, but doable until this crossed the road right in front of us:
And then he danced around in the small space so much that I thought I would be crushed - - - or even worse - - - that he would pee his pants all over me!!!!
And that, dear readers, is my African elephant tale.
And though I will admit to trying to make it as fun a read as possible, I will not take back one word.
For this is no fairy tale.
(I am linking this with VTT at Suzanne's because it is vintage as vintage can be AND furthermore, I'm linking it to TT over at Leigh's because I'm taking you to Africa and you don't even have to pay air fare!!!! Hey - - - that's pretty thrifty!)