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Downtime


Photo by Jean Kelly

The writing day can be, in some ways, too short, but it's actually a long series of hours, for months at a time, and there is a stillness there. --Anne Enright


After my first full week in Africa, I had a day off, and I was ready to write. When I envisioned this trip, I saw myself scribbling away every chance I could get. Reality had other plans. Getting up at 6am, working in the hot sun all day and being so tired at night that brushing my teeth was a full-on effort, journaling went out the window fast.


Plus, there wasn’t anywhere to sit. Ok, there were plenty of places to sit, but I’m particular about where I plant myself when putting pen to paper. I tried the pool, but that sun – man, was I getting tired of it. The picnic tables at the Activity Center were hard and uncomfortable and moving positions every ten minutes to avoid the sun wasn’t conducive to the creative process. There was my tent, of course. However, being in there after 2pm was like spending an afternoon at hot yoga in a fleece onesie. That tent would heat up! Writing at night was plain old futile. You need light to write, and I tried to keep that to minimum while inside the tent. Nothing makes you feel less creative than a giant spider crawling across the page while you’re mid-sentence.


Yeah, so like I said, not much creative stuff going on – until Sunday. Oh, Sunday! You beautiful beast! Sundays at Na’ankuse were considered a day “off.” Breakfast was served at 8am, which meant getting an entire extra hour of sleep. There was no scheduled work either. We just had to make sure the animals got fed in the morning and afternoon. It was downright luxurious.


Of course my inner clock didn’t get the memo, and I was up at 6am like the other days, but I didn’t care. I sat outside on my “deck” on the nylon safari chair and poured a week’s worth of thoughts out of my head and onto the page. It was the first time in a whole week that I was able to actually stop and process all that I’d seen and done.

As I listened to the sounds of the bush, it occurred to me that this trip was going to stay with me for quite some time. I’m not exactly sure why, but the notion of prolonged impact made me happy. Maybe because I felt like I’d given so much of myself to the experience and forgetting things somehow made it feel like a waste. Whatever it was, I wrote it all down. (Now, you know why it’s almost April, and I’m still talking about my first week!)


Here’s what I loved…


The Bush Camp Crew. They were my family – my peeps. It was the simple stuff that stuck with me. Like the time that Jess (from Australia) couldn’t find her hat. We’d looked around at breakfast, checking chairs, under the tables. I think she may have even run back to her room. Nothing. Until we made our way down the path toward the shortcut and saw Jess’s hat hanging on one of the prickly trees that would rip the shirt of your back if you weren’t careful. Speaking of Jess and prickly, there was also the time she had a “situation” with some cacti. Her team was tasked with moving a bunch of cacti from one part of The Farm to another, and Jess slipped and fell right onto a cactus – butt first. I spent the better part of the afternoon plucking quills out of her rear using my three-pack of travel tweezers from Sephora.


Helen and I were joined at the hip. Carla (and a few others) had left for another property south of Na’ankuse for a week, so not only was our crew smaller, Helen and I were the only ones on the far side of camp. We still walked home together each night, and now breakfast, too. We developed a system. I’d call over from my tent “Ya ready, Helen?” She’d call back, “Just looking for me pipe!”


Here's Helen looking for her pipe.

Helen was always losing her “pipe” – a vape filled with strawberry flavored tobacco. It cracked me up to see her riding around on the back of a truck in The Reserve puffing on that thing. And like clockwork, every morning, a search ensued for something of Helen’s. Some days it was the pipe, while other days it was her sunglasses. I’m not judging. My first few days were filled with quick sprints back to my tent for some forgotten item that was essential to my well-being.


I’ve already talked about how much I liked dinner with the group. But I loved our after-dinner time together. Drinks would flow along with stories from the antics of the day. One night we played a card game we call in the States, “Bullshit.” It’s where you try to get rid of all your cards by putting them into the pile, most times lying about their suit. Helen was shameless and had no issues blatantly peeking at people’s cards. Hedda was a terrible liar. And Jess didn’t miss a thing.


I’ve always loved community, and I had found mine in them. I thought this trip was going to be so personal, and it was, but the camaraderie – that was an unexpected bonus.


What I Didn’t Love...


Bugs, bugs, bugs. Always bugs. Whether there were spiders in my shoes or ants in my bed, I could always count on “company” in my tent each evening. I’m proud of myself for never losing my sense of humor, even though, each night there would be a showdown.


And it would go something like this:


I’d come home and get into my nightclothes. That would happen after I’d give every single piece of clothing a vigorous shake. (Yep. Nights were cold and that meant multiple layers.) I learned my lesson on Day 2. When I’d first arrived, I unpacked everything organizing my stuff on one of the empty beds. That was until I grabbed a shirt one morning. Whoosh! Out came a family of moths. That was the end of that. I put everything back into my bag, zipped it up tight and took the term “living out of a suitcase” to the literal level.


Chapter two in the nightly showdown was hunting for critters in important places, like my bed. And I’m talking about in the bed, under the bed, in the covers/pillows – all of it. I often wondered what it must’ve looked like me searching my tent like something out of one of those CSI shows. There was this one…let’s call it a spider. Every night I would open my “windows” by pulling back the Velcro flaps to get some air flowing. And every night that stupid “spider” would be waiting for me. It was like he was taunting me. “Hey City Girl, come on. Show me what’chu got.” I would, of course, go for my shoe across the room and by the time I’d get back (we’re talking like ten seconds), he’d be gone. And then my crime scene investigation would start all over again to make sure he wasn’t planning to join me in bed.


The other thing I was starting to hate – the lions. They were noisy m-effers. Like all night long. And that’s with earplugs! Each night those noisy cats would go at it. I pictured them all sitting around a table playing poker where someone would inevitably have a sore-loser fit, flip the table and go at it with the other players. It would be a typical conversation at breakfast where someone would mention them and everyone would groan and commiserate on how annoying they were.


I also hated lunchtime. Aside from the fact that the food was starting to weigh (literally) on me, I’d lost my appetite for the group seating. Similar to Bush Camp, the tables were long with bench seating, and people would pile in like the subway at rush hour. It was always a head-scratcher to me. You’d spend all morning with certain people, why did you have to eat with them, too? I’d have eaten alone at lunch if I could. It wasn’t so much about the people, it was just was too chaotic and loud – and HOT.

Helen knew this about me and would frequently sit down at a different table. I didn’t get it at first and would scooch over to make some room for her. But she stayed put.


“Well ah knooow ya hate ta be crOWdid.”


And the sun – OH. MY. GOD. The sun was brutal. So much so, my ears and lips were peeling by Day 3. I admit I’d somehow forgotten to pack SPF lip stuff (DUMB) and used Vaseline lip therapy every second (REALLY DUMB). Add a dry, dusty climate to the mix, my lips had no chance. Oh, any my eyes. Nothing screams panic like flaky skin around the eyes when you’re pushing 50. It was a disaster.


Part of me felt like the days whizzed by, while the other part felt like I’d been there a month. I was sad when I realized I’d only had a week to go. The first few days had been rough, but I was in a rhythm now. I couldn’t wait to see what else lie ahead.

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