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Marriages and Safaris: Beauty. Dung. Sometimes Rainbows.

It’s Valentine’s Day and a friend just asked for advice about planning a safari, so it seems appropriate to re-post this meditation on love, marriage, shit, and rainbows. You know, just your basic extended metaphor but with hippos.

One of the gifts, for me, of being on safari, is all the time spent in the jeep staring out at the landscape as we drive around looking for animals, birds, whatever.  Of course, that’s also sort of the downside, too: you spend a lot of time looking for things and sometimes you’re lucky…and sometimes you’re not. It is the proverbial crap shoot, with a literal emphasis on crap (more about that in a minute).

As it happened, this safari of ours happened a week before Husband and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Fifteen years starts to be a rather long time, don’t you think?  Which is fantastic and also means that we are getting freaking old.

The two things started to come together in my mind as we drove around (or actually, as we were driven by our guides–the marvelously named Jelly, in Samburu, and Daniel, in the Mara), and I started to think that maybe safaris and marriages aren’t really that different, when you get right down to it.

Consider: when you first get married, you’re all we’re married! There’s that whole happily ever after thing, which lasts for …maybe a week/month/year and then it starts to be weird toenail clippings, and undone laundry, and why do you have to straighten up when I’m napping on the couch, and whose turn is it to do the laundry, and why am I taking care of the kids, and for the love of god get off the computer, and no we’re too tired/poor/busy to go to a party/dinner/theater/movie, and who messed with my Netflix queue?  (At least, that’s what I hear from other married people. Husband and I have had fifteen years of uninterrupted bliss.)

Life starts to look a lot like this, except without the little birds:

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Consider: on your first day of safari, you’re all safari! And you take pictures of everything, thanking the lord that someone invented digital photography: you’ve got thousands of pictures of the jeep, your camp, the guide, each other, the hotel manager’s pet dog. It’s all vastly, amazingly exciting. You see A LION. You see AN ELEPHANT.  And it’s exhilarating and amazing, until it starts to be a little bit of  LOOK!  A BIG BIRD THAT MIGHT BE AN EAGLE OVER THERE. NO, OVER THERE. And you jounce and jolt along the trails, hour after hour, and it’s mostly amazing…and a lot of grass.  You bounce along, bumpety bumpety, and you get closer and closer to Maybe It’s Something and…it’s a rock. Or a tree. Or a bunch of rocks. Or a warthog. Which is like a rock but with tusks and a little tail.

See the analogy? Bouncing along, never quite knowing what you’re going to find? One day you’re incredibly lucky and fulfill every fantasy you ever had about being a photographer for National Geographic, and then it’s hours of driving along looking at the same trees you saw yesterday and the day before. And they’re very nice trees, you know, and you’re very happy to be on safari but…is this it? Driving around looking for stuff?

Here’s another thing: when you embark on marriage, or on a safari, no one tells you how much you’re going to learn about poo. Whether you’re married with children or without, other people’s poo will become your business. It should be written into all marriage contracts—anyone settling into a long-term partnership, gay or straight, married or just shacking up—that separate bathrooms are a prerequisite. Because really. Do any of us need to know our beloveds that intimately?

On our last safari, we learned a lot about poop, which surprised me and meant that I was a little bit more prepared for stuff that looks like this:

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Those of you with cats might have a sense of what we’re looking at: crap with fur in it. Which is to say, furry shit.  You might think, oh my cat who grooms herself and had a fur-ball left something like that in the litterbox (although actually fur-balls make cats puke, so front end and not back end).  Nope.

That there is lion poop. A lion what ate an antelope fairly recently.  Fur, it seems, isn’t digestible.

Aren’t you glad you know that? You’re welcome.

So yes, you get out of the jeep sometimes, look at poop, or at ants, because hey, that’s what the safari threw you that day. And so it is with marriage: roses one day, yelling about the laundry the next.

But sometimes, just as you’re getting completely fed up, there are rainbows in a cloudy sky.

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Continue Reading · on February 14, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, family, Kids, marriage, Travel

Out of Africa…but first a few words about poop

I think Baronness Von Blixen had the right idea: I wants me a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills, or, even better, a little shack at the Oloololo Gate, at the northwest corner of Masai Mara, which is without doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. On our last day there, driving to the airstrip in our open jeep, I watched a lioness saunter down the road towards me. With a switch of her tail, she strolled past me to join her cubs, who were playing under an acacia tree on the other side of the road.

Right now you’re bracing yourselves for pictures of Big Cats, sunsets, maybe an adorable monkey.  That’s all coming, I promise, but this post is about something else. This post is about ecological balance, the circle of life, the perfect synergy of nature.

In other words, this post is about poop, which, in its own way, is as perfect as the lioness I saw on my last day.  As one of the naturalists who took us on a “walking safari” said, poop isn’t just shit.

Take this, for example:

Yep, that’s elephant poop.  And a rather small offering, compared to some other piles we saw.  Elephant poop, it seems, is filled with lots of undigested material, including seeds and even small seedlings, which eventually (if not eaten by some other creature) will sprout, fertilized by the poop.  Fresh elephant poo is sometimes eaten by baby elephants, because the poo contains all kinds of bacterias and enzymes that the baby elephants need to line their own digestive tracts (think: live culture yogurt). And then of course, sometimes dried dung can be burned for fuel; and it can also be compacted into balls, wrapped in old plastic bags, and voila, a soccer ball for village kids.

Here’s a different kind of poop:

 It sort of looks like a big blob of toothpaste, doesn’t it? Nope. It’s hyena poop and it’s white because hyenas eat bones. They’re part of “the cleanup crew:” vultures, buzzards, hyenas, and jackals. Nice bunch, eh? Hyenas eat flesh, but they also eat bones, so their poop is almost pure calcium.  And then these little beetles need the calcium, so they come along and eat the poop. It’s a win-win poop-based relationship.

But the piece-de-resistance of poop has to be this sample:

 What’s that, you ask? Isn’t it just more elephant poop?

Oh no, my friends, not at all. That is hippo poop. While the hippo is doing his business, he spins his tail around and spreads the poop as widely as he can, on bushes, trees, shrubs, rocks. (Note to self: never to stand behind a hippo, for fear of being be-pooped.)  Their poop works on the trail-of-breadcrumbs method: Hippos spend the day in the river staying cool and then at night, they lumber up to the grasslands to graze. But because hippos are so territorial (each family group has its own section of river), if a hippo should inadvertently splash into the wrong part of the river, he would face the wrath of other hippos.  The path of poop ensures that each hippo family finds its way back to the right part of the river.  You can see the hippo paths–surprisingly narrow for such wide creatures–leading away from the river up to the grasslands, and bespeckled all along with the hippo version of road signs.

See? Poop isn’t just shit. Without poop? There’d be nothing, not even this:

Does anyone know how I get a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills?

 

 

 

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Continue Reading · on July 24, 2012 in environment, Travel

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