Campfire on the Serengeti
Campfire on the Serengeti

One of the most beautiful of the handful of words I learned in Swahili is “lala salama” which means something equivalent to “have a peaceful nights rest.” Isn’t that much more beautiful than a plain ole “good night”?

If you know me, you know how I like making plans. One of the things I must constantly remind myself is that God has much bigger plans for us than we could ever imagine. How seldom do the fears and dramas that materialize in our minds actually occur? How much more magic happens in life when we simply open ourselves to the adventure? Before leaving for Africa, my son cautioned me that a blood moon/ lunar eclipse was to occur while we were at the Serengeti. What felt like a bad omen to him felt like high drama to me, however neither circumstance was to present itself. South of the equator, the moon did not rise until long after we had retired to our tents.

In the Serengeti, I learned how magical nights can be…
The sunsets are beautiful and elusive. Every evening I try desperately to capture the moment the sun sets with my camera but it slips away, leaving an expansive afterglow. The surrounding mountains are topped with any number of species of sparse acacia trees that when silhouetted, appear exactly like unruly elephants marching across the peaks.

In the fading evening light just before dinner, we sit around our campfire and rehash the events of the day. The warm light and heat illuminates the faces of our little group and our fearless leader, Zablon Sunday. It does not illuminate the shadows beyond going bump in the night. There are large things that fly and flutter around, moths and something I never saw close enough but seemed like a bat. The beam of a flashlight may catch the glowing red eyes of hyenas in our “front yard”. One of my favorite sounds is their piercing call of woo-OOH, one of five distinctive calls they make including their trademark “laugh” which Zablon seems to think sounds a lot like me. His attempts to emulate my Southern accent within the constrains of his own African dialect, mysteriously tinged with the rolling of Spanish “r”‘s is really quite humorous. Also, there is a small river not far from the campsite and we can hear the hippos rumble and sigh throughout the night. Our friend Jackie accurately describes them as sighing in the key of James Earl Jones. It is truly as if moving to and from the water is simply too much for them to bear. The campfire is such a fitting and relaxing end to the memorable days spent in nature and although no one feels compelled to say a prayer, it is almost the same.

On our first evening in Serengeti, Janie and I make our way back to the tent after dinner to find our neighbors Shirley and Helen outside their tents, dancing in circles and worshipping the sky. Technology had found us again, albeit briefly, and they were locating constellations with their I-Phones.

I looked up into the sky that evening and what I saw was truly magnificent. So many stars, so many constellations, and so much sky. It was like a great black dome had been placed over us and each and every star was calling out “look at me!” The Milky Way appeared as just that, a huge milky streak painted against the black, generously spilled across the heavens.

No blood, no moon, no blood moon, just the magnificent evening sky as I imagine it is meant to be.

Lala salama, indeed.

Before my husband was diagnosed with sleep apnea, he snored loudly for years. Blocking the noise with earplugs became the only way I could sleep. In Africa, not because of fear but because of my curiosity and my desire to “feel” I wanted to hear every sound. Before Serengeti, we stayed in another tented cabin at Lake Barunge that is built on an elevated platform. One night, there was an incredibly loud munching and heavy movements outside the tent, a few feet from my head. I was soooo excited, “Janie!” I whisper. “Wake up!” Sis has been wearing her earplugs for more years than I have and she is slumbering peacefully, oblivious to our guest. I stumble around the tent, trying to find the flashlight, trying to find the camera and then trying to find my glasses to help me find the flashlight and the camera. My stirring must have alarmed the creature because I hear it move to the front of the tent; it sounds like it is on the front porch. I cannot see out the mesh “window” at night so I unzip the door a few inches to see the a large zebra standing in our front yard. He is standing fifteen feet away from me snorting. I can even see the dust move when he breathes. I look around carefully, I promise, before gingerly stepping outside.

The next day my sister tells on me and I get in trouble.

In Serengeti, at night I do not unzip the tent and I do not go outside. Even when I hear what I know is a warthog grunting around the tent. Do you know how cute they are?

Lying in bed at night, I hear the hyenas call back and forth and the birds sing and chirp in melodic trills. It reminds me of the whippoorwills I am so fond of back home. The lions and the hippos fill in the lower range of sounds; with a vibrato so low you almost feel rather than hear it. The hippos are far away, yet they rumble off and on for most of the night. The lion roars occasionally. As king of the jungle, a little roar goes a long way. It is exactly a Metro Goldwyn Mayer kind of roar. It is this sound I love to hear. It is not so close that it is scary, just beautiful and powerful.

I do not unzip the tent even when I hear a stampede outside. I am curious, so I get up and try to look out the mesh window. I do not know what time it is but the moon must be risen because I see shadows running around Helen and Shirley’s tent. I do not unzip the tent even though it is killing me to know what is out there. Something jumps and kicks up its heels; it moves a little like a deer. The next morning, Janie and I wake up very early, before the sun rises. We hear one of the men softly call “jambo!” to us from the darkness outside our tent and hear them pour warm water into the little canvas sink basins outside so we can wash our face with warm water. I grab the flashlight and shine the light past our tent. We stand there in our PJ’s, mouths open, to discover hundreds of red eyes looking back at us.

It seems the wildebeests stopped by for a little sleepover.

Lala salame!