Africa. A magical land I would dream of visiting as a child—dreams that were fueled by trips to The Franklin Institute and periodic episodes of National Geographic. It seemed surreal to actually be here with my family and friends after 30 hours of travel.
Day one: we are loading our girls into the Land Rovers along with our friends and their kids on our first safari. Here we go, bouncing from our seats over dust-laden paths through the stunning Serengeti, and it really was all that I had envisioned.
Our seasoned guides listened to the crackly Swahili chatter of their fellow safari guides over the radios, pointing one another towards animal spottings. A hush fell across our vehicle as our guide headed straight down a dusty path to our first encounter with a family of elephants. He drove us close and cut the engine. We were so close. I questioned, “Are we safe?” and he replied, “Very. If we peacefully watch them they will not bother us.” We watched in silence as a group of 15 or so elephants surrounded our Rover. Yes, we had all seen these magnificent creatures confined behind bars of many zoos—but here they were free as they were meant to be in their natural element and utterly content. We all popped our heads up on the top of the Rover to observe the gentle giants –we were awestruck. A mother and her just weeks old baby walked in unison, keeping her young close and making note of us but going about her business munching grass and trees. I thought… this is a moment I will never forget and neither will my children. This was everything I dreamed it would be.
Most of the trip I felt small. I know, it’s such a strange thing to say, but travel often makes me feel this way. This place was vast—savannah rolling on forever making me feel like a tiny speck lost amongst the many creatures. We spent hours upon hours spotting new animals, a leopard, a lioness and her cubs, hippos by the hundreds, a silly family of monkeys in a hollowed out tree, the arching neck of a mama giraffe bowing down to her baby, a baboon dashing past us with her young clinging to her back. This place reminds me that we are but a mere piece of the life on this globe and no more or less important.
The most striking thing of all about the whole two-week long trip of a lifetime to Tanzania through the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the villages of the native tribe the Masai, was the unyielding relationships we witnessed and the power of the instinct of survival. Survival at the primal level drives everything here. It was surprising to learn that certain animals were friends, like the wildebeests and the zebras who depend on one another: one with sharp vision and memory and one with keen hearing and ability to smell water. We saw this over and over again, like the giraffe and the birds that are always on their backs eating the insects from their coats. As corny as it sounds, there was no mistaking that the Disney “Circle of Life” was alive and well here in Africa.
We witnessed love here too, as sibling lions rubbed up against one another and cuddled for a snooze with their pride, and as a mama elephant helped her young up an embankment with her trunk. We saw animal families interacting just as we do. We witnessed love in the Masai villages too, where saw people working together for the greater good of their family and tribe as a whole, often sacrificing in ways we living in the modern world could not fathom.
Symbioses—the most important concept I take from this breathtaking adventure into Africa. I am forever changed by the beauty and harmony I have seen here and the eloquent give-and-take of the animals and the people. While there, we visited an orphanage. Incredibly moved and humbled by this experience, I will never forget the warm reception of these children who were happy just to have someone acknowledge them, pay attention to them, to be seen and loved. It didn’t matter that we were virtually strangers or that our skin was different, we were all connected as human beings sharing a human connection—and that’s all that mattered. I sat next to a little 7-year-old girl on her cot and watched her as she was eating from a tiny container of mostly eaten peanut butter. Kids crowded around her with hands extended for her to share. She scraped tiny, and I mean tiny, amounts from the container and put a little on each of their outstretched hands. Her selflessness was stunning. These children were happy and generous, despite how little they had, and they all embodied joy where I expected none.
I wish I could package Africa up and give you all what Africa made me feel and how it changed the way I see our relationships with one another. It has made me think of sacrifice and gratitude in my life and relationships in a whole new light. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had this experience and will always carry a little bit of Africa in my soul now; its beauty, tenacity, loyalty, love, and the undeniable interconnection we all share.