Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



Lala salama

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!

Getting to Serengeti

P1000513Hard to believe but after six days of travel, we have finally arrived in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Our group of 16 travelers made our way west from Mt. Kilimanjaro through the bustling town of Arusha, past Oldupai Gorge and the Tarangire National Park. While I have been captivated by the diverse landscapes and the exotic species of animal and plant life that we have encountered so far, Africa has not felt entirely real until now.

At this moment, I am sitting in a folding chair that I’ve wedged into a narrow three-foot strip of shade beneath the overhang of my tent. It is time for afternoon siesta. A slight breeze stirs, making it cooler outside than inside the tent where my sister Janie is trying to read, but will actually nap. Her legs and tummy are covered with wet wash cloths that she has scourged and a piece of smart fabric that works by cooling itself when wet.

Our tent is more like a cabin made of canvas than any tent I have ever seen. It is divided into three compartments for sleeping, dressing and a bath area complete with a toilet that actually flushes and a primitive shower. The shower is better than I imagined, that being of an African woman pouring a bucket of cold water over my head. The shower works like this… between the hours of 6 and 7:00 PM one of several young men fetch precisely two liters of hot water that has been heated in large barrels by solar power and pour it into a bucket attached to our shower by a hose. The bucket is raised by a pulley to a height of ten or twelve feet to create water pressure. The men shout “hakuna mitata” which is their way of saying “Have a good shower!” We shower in a quick series of offs and ons, flipping a red lever above our head to distribute water from the bucket that is not the right temperature but wonderful anyway. Dim overhead lights powered by solar panels hang from above. Our twin beds are like deluxe cots with a few inches of mattress on top and layers of lightweight coverings. This is perfect since the temperature can fluctuate from the fifties to nearly 100 degrees in the Serengeti this time of year. Considering we are in the middle of nowhere, our accommodations are really quite luxurious. Before leaving for this trip, my coworkers teased me about “glamping” and I must agree it’s true, although the roar of a lion in the distance reminds me that the adventure part of this experience is very real.

Our campsite is scenic; it sits at the edge of a grassy plain that faces a small mountain range to the west. There are no other campsites or lodges for miles around. Our group of sixteen reside in ten private tents that flank a central common area for dining and evening campfires. A group of eight African men prepare three delicious meals a day, look after all our needs and escort us safely to and from our tents after dark. Their campsite including the “kitchen” is located about fifty yards behind ours in an area dotted with scraggly vegetation and small trees for shade, a clothesline, a precious generator and vast containers for heating and storing water. As I am trying to compose this blog on my tablet, I hear a commotion behind me. Peering around the corner, I see a group of baboons and a large bird squabbling over something, most likely a precious morsel of food that has been foraged from our dinner. The baboons run out of the campsite screaming triumphantly and the bird flies away.

The roads to here are notoriously bad, becoming worse the closer one gets to Serengeti. We are told they will become impassable during the rainy season which begins in another month or so. For most of the day, our land cruiser flew over washboard roads while our “innards” were jostled like a shaken martini. (By the way, did I mention there is like NO ice in Africa? This has become a source of irritation for my dear sister who is accustomed to ice cold coca-cola for breakfast every morning. More on this later… ) Our guides tried to convince us that the ride is smoother if we go fast, so we literally flew over the bumps and pot holes and skid around the curves, leaving a blaze of red dust behind us.

After we stopped to secure the paperwork required for admission to the park, we turned left onto the “main road” towards our section of the park. We did not travel far when wildlife began appearing in vast herds. Thousands of wildebeests and zebras, along with various smaller animals, birds and various species of what appear to be deer-like animals, gazelles and impalas grazed oblivious in the endless flat savannah. Occasionally a group of wildebeests (they do not appear to be very smart) are standing too close to the side of the road. As we roar past, they jump away dramatically, bucking like broncos, shaking their shaggy heads sideways like they are scolding us and they just can’t believe we have the audacity to bother them!

There was a small mishap on the way to our camp site… Our fearless leader Zablon was maneuvering our vehicle around a big mud hole in a low-lying area near the river when we were suddenly inundated with Tse-tse flies. Flies are everywhere and everyone is swatting them like crazy; my sister has taken off a shoe and is beating the hell out of the seats and windows of the vehicle, making loud noises crash- thud. Not to be outdone, I remember my insect repellant! From my days as a trusty Cub Scout Leader at Camp Beverly Hills, I am always prepared. Well, I swear I only made a few tiny little sprays pss-ss-stt when poor Zab stops the vehicle (never mind the flies…) groaning in pain, clutching his left eye. It seems a few drops of my repellent has floated into his eye and I have blinded him. I feel terrible; I apologize profusely and a few of my fellow travelers glare at me as if I should have known better than to spray insect repellant inside a vehicle. I lamely offer Zab some Visine and sit a little lower in my seat.

Once we arrived at our campsite, we were given a whistle in lieu of a room key with instructions not to blow it unless an animal was actually to get inside our tent. This immediately caused a stir throughout the group. “Just how would an animal get inside our tent?” I wonder aloud since our tents have well secured zippers. “What if there is something right outside our tent?” asks another. There are rumblings from more than one of our outspoken middle-aged travelers that this policy seems unreasonable and unsafe. Our leader assures us this is for the best, that if he hears the whistle, he and the other men will descend upon us at warp speed and if the animal is roaming the campsite rather than trying to free itself from our tent, they could be killed. (They fail to mention that we would probably be already dead or scared to death should this happen!) This whole concept sounds fishy to us, how the animal could get into our tent in the first place since the entry has three zippers, how four thin walls of canvas could really keep us from being trampled by a four to six ton elephant or a dangerous buffalo, how we could be rescued in the first place since our guides do not admit to carrying guns.

Ready for our first night of adventure in Serengeti, we anxiously retire to our tents.

My sister Janie and I are travelling with Overseas Adventure Travel throughout northeast Tanzania, Africa. OAT specializes in providing safe, affordable small group excursions to all four corners of the world with emphasis on adventure, cultural encounters and philanthropy. There’s never more than sixteen travelers and single travelers are welcome. Mention Susan Boswell and Code #1910363 to receive $100. discount towards your own adventure.

Travelling with Perry.
Travelling with Perry.

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