I’m writing today to the backdrop of hippos. Can you hear them? They’re noisy as they splash around in the water; giant spashes intermingling with gargantuan grunts and moans. They’re not more than 50 meters from the shaded porch of my safari tent–and thank goodness for shade, as temperatures are more tolerable here than our last locale in the Kalahari Desert, though still, ahem, quite warm.
Though I’m at our safari camp in the muggy Delta of Botswana, surrounded by wildlife, I want to take a left turn and write to you today about the land. I can’t tell you how much the of the natural terrain here resembles the shapes of many of the creatures that reside on it. Everything has a decidedly animalistic feel. The tree branches curve like the antlers of the antelope; shrubs resemble the big wild cats that walk the area; logs have offshoots that you’d swear were ears and snouts. Even the cloud structure at sunset yesterday looked so startlingly elephant-like that our Jeep full of guests couldn’t stop gawking. There have been countless times when someone’s been convinced they’re seeing a wild animal, only to realize that curvature of a spine they spotted is simply the bend in a tree; those perked-up ears are wooden, rising from a hundred-year-old tree that’s been frozen in time after dying due to lack of water. It’s as if the land itself has taken on the form of the animals that inhabit it; a reflection of their spirit.
It makes me wonder, actually, if the people who live here too learn to blend more seamlessly with their environment. The crews that work at safari camps are generally locals, but they are displaced from their natural environment when they are working on-site and surrounded by tourists. The second camp we stayed at, Sango, takes its name from the small village adjacent; though we weren’t able to spend any time with the people there, we drove slowly past on several occasions, and were greeted by sweet calls and exuberant waves by the children; when the evening approached, small fires dotted the area, presumably mostly for cooking rather than warmth (though by about 4am, the temperature cooled enough for me to pull on a layer of covers in my bed, rather than lying with a light sheet alone). And it’s quite striking to think that the people here are surrounded, literally, by wild animals. Even at our well-maintained and very safe camp, there are hippos in the backyard, and apparently they often come and lumber through camp during the night. Right now, from my vantage point, I see not only those giant aforementioned hippos, languidly sunning themselves between groans and splashes, but also two different types of antelope (7 total), and many beautiful and very exotic birds with varying shapes, sizes, and calls. There were leopard tracks along the path right outside our dining area, and at our last location, Kalahari Plains, we woke to see cheetah tracks at the water hole directly adjacent to where we sat around the fire the night before (and by “directly adjacent,” I mean “10 feet away”). We have been told that most domesticated pets (dogs in particular) have, sadly, quickly become dinner for the lions. Suffice to say: this is a wild land. And I can only imagine the resilience and intuitive spirits of the people that are necessary to not only survive, but also thrive in this African terrain.
(Side note: yes, the bug life here is also pretty extraordinary–flies in jellyroll-bright blues and greens, lumbering beetles as big as frogs, mighty-winged moths and bees with bodies like dragonflies. Though blessedly, whatever insect sprays they use here seem to deter most from hanging out with us in our tents.)
One more thing that bears note: the moonrise yesterday. Jenn, I wish you could’ve seen it. It was easily one of the most beautiful natural sky sights I’ve ever experienced. It rose full, and came over the horizon about 30 minutes after the sun set–enough time for the dark sky to serve as a dramatic backdrop and counterpart to its incandescent glow. When I first noticed it, looming above the savannah, I had to do a double-take. Could that be the moon? I’ve never seen a moon that big! Minutes later, its presence was undeniable, incomparable, breathtaking. In full view, she blossomed into bright yellow, and her mighty glow overtook the sky and made all stars nearly invisible. Imprint this on your memory, my dad whispered. Pictures would never do it justice. So rather than reaching for our cameras, we watched. As our jeep headed back to camp, I craned my neck to keep the moon in view; witnessing silently, feeling amazed and grateful and without words. There’s not many times when I’m literally rendered speechless, but this was one of those occasions.
Sure enough, the dramatic rise faded as the moon ascended higher; her color faded to a more natural off-white, and her size lessened so she took up much less space. The lights of planets and stars were, once again, discernible. It made me reflect on us people, and particularly, many women. Those of us who have stories we tell about taking up “too much” or “too little” space. Those of us that shine our light brightly, unabashedly, and without restraint, and those of us who struggle and hold back. Those of us who are afraid of dominating ours, or anyone else’s, horizons. Those of us that don’t feel worthy of being the center of anyone’s attention. Jenn, you and I both know many women like this. In fact, you and I both have been these women ourselves–and, sometimes, we still are. However, at the moment, due to our great growth and hard work, you and I both are also pillars of hope and inspiration for many women who dull their lights.
Because we’ve practiced shining ours. We know how it feels to glow, to stand strongly in our truth, to lead by example and through our words. We know how it feels to face fierce adversity, to fight for ourselves and our rights, to be denied help and support, and to struggle with our bodies when all they seem to do is cause us discomfort, confuson, pain, suffering. We know how it feels to stay committed to a cause, to believe in the importance of our efforts, to fight the fight of loving ourselves and others. And, often, we are like the moon. We fade to a light that’s less brilliant. Sometimes, all you can see of us is a sliver. Sometimes, we’re fully obstructed by clouds. But always, no matter how visible, we’re there. And not only that: we’re affecting the energy of the world around us: pulling at the oceans, shifting the tides. I truly believe that you, Jenn, have more of a positive influence than you realize, simply by being yourself. No matter how bright you’re shining, or how blaring your light is. Your amazing moon self is enough–and wow, I can see her from here. Hot dawg, does she glow.
I close today by saying: keep shining, sister. I’m proud to be your compatriate of the skies.
Sending much love!
PS Today’s picture was taken out the door from our camp in the Kalahari Desert. Not the same mighty moon I spoke of above, but magical nonetheless.