Sunday, January 10, 2010
the first 24 hours
I'm here. I rented a car at the Windhoek airport and drove three hours out into the bush to get to Harnas. I got an inkling of the adventure as I drove along--all by myself, driving in a car with the steering on the right, driving on the left side of the road, listening to Afrikaan music, and thinking, "Gee, I hope I don't have a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere." The car is essentially a wind-up toy, but it got me here--even on the dirt roads for the last hour.
The first 24 hours have been so wonderful. After greeting all the people I've come to think of as my second family, I wandered the farm to see where changes have been made and animals added and subtracted. I found my favorite creatures (don't tell the others) and I swear they remember me. I just fell on my knees in front of my cheetahs, they started purring, and Pride draped her head over my shoulder so I could give her a big hug. (Hugging a purring cheetah is like being inside a vibrating bed, by the way.)
Today (Sunday) was non-stop. I helped return a recently injured cheetah to an outer enclosure, I helped relocate a leopard to a new location farther from the farm (she jumped onto the roof of the truck, and tried to stick her head in the window--very dangerous animal--but we got her inside the back of the truck with bloody meat as a lure), I visited the new family of meerkats--one with a cast on his little broken arm), watched a spitting cobra sidle across in front of the truck (yikes!), fed some peanuts to vervet monkeys, went horseback riding (I won't be able to walk tomorrow), and took a nap--all before dinner.
But the most memorable moment of the last 24 hours happened last night. I was eating dinner at the lapa with Marieta, laughing so hard I could hardly breathe, listening to her stories. And then we walked back to the courtyard near her home (my guest room is off this area). It was so dark, but once we got inside the gate, she said, "Stay here. I know things by touch. I'll go turn on some lights.) So I stood in the dark with a dozen or so dogs brushing up against me and licking me. I reached down, petted a few, and felt something different. The fur was thicker and coarser, and the muscle underneath it felt more "liquid-ey"--you know, fluid. Then it dawned on me.
"Marieta! There's a lion mixed in with these dogs!" I yelled.
I heard her laughing from across the courtyard. "Oh that's just Martha. She sleeps with the dogs at night."
The lights came on, and sure enough, a lion about the size of a labrador retriever was winding herself around my knees, pushing her forehead into my legs.
I don't know why these magical moments continue to surprise me here at Harnas. They happen all the time. But every time one happens, I feel wonder all over again.
This morning when I got up, I couldn't open my door--Martha was sleeping against it. Most people would feel scared, I guess, at knowing there was a lion sleeping just 10 feet from their bed, but somehow it made me feel safe to know that I was guarded by her all night.
Just another day at Harnas.