Monday, May 20, 2013

Into the Lion's Den

Hello, friends and dear family!

Wow, what a week!  I don’t know if I can even begin to describe to you just how incredible this place and its people are.  This week I want to talk about meaningful things that happened this week and how different Africa is from the US; the culture, the people, the earth, everything.  So here goes!

This week we did a lot of cleaning of lion enclosures as usual.  Every morning we cover at least two as you may remember from last time.  This week we cleaned my favorite lion’s enclosure (Gaucho).  I was immediately struck by how different this lion is from the others.  By the way, I’m going to go on a tangent for a second.  These animals each have their own personality, they are so charismatic in their own way, and anyone who goes so far to say that an animal doesn’t have a soul, well you couldn’t be more wrong.  And honestly, if you think that, then I dare you to crawl into the lion’s den like I did this week.  Anyways, Gaucho.  He doesn’t eat the bones of his chickens.  He completely strips the skin of feathers and the flesh from the bone.  I found several perfect little chicken skeletons (sans the heads, he seems to like those) in a neat little pile.  Then his “house” as they call it here, or his den, was full of feathers.  So many that you couldn’t see the earth beneath.  I crawled into his den on my hands and knees and gathered the feathers.  Then I sat there laughing because I was literally in a lion’s den, seeing what he sees.  You may not find that quite so funny as I do, but it was something that struck me pretty deep this week.

Ringo and Aneta

Also something that shines pretty bright in my memory of last week was a little Dutch boy.  I was “monitoring” people during the feeding on Friday and saw a little boy hugging a fence post having a tantrum.  I could tell he was really tired.  This boy was maybe 3 or 4 years old.  His mom stood there asking him if he wanted her to carry him, which only made him cry harder.  So I crouched in front of him and asked him if he wanted me to carry him.  He immediately dried his tears, grinning from ear to ear, and ran to me for me to pick him up.  He started blabbering in Dutch and pointing to the lion on my shirt.  It was really sweet and his mother kept thanking me for saving her back the trouble.  The boy, Guy, finally talked in halting English about the lions.  His older brother came running over to tell me about how all the lions in the park are his brothers and sisters.  And that he was born a lion, but can change between a boy and a lion.  So I asked him to give me his best lion roar, he got down on his hands and knees and roared (a lot like Simba in The Lion King!).  I carried Guy all the way back to reception while talking with his parents.  Then he kissed me on the cheek, thanked me and they left.  It really made my day. 

Ok, onto my next topic for this week.  Everything is different here.  First of all, the food is incredibly good.  And very healthy.  I have a jar of peanut butter here and the ingredients are as follows: peanuts (99%), water.  That’s it.  No sugar, fats, corn syrup, salts, nothing.  My body went through serious detox when I got here, even though we eat as wholesome and organic as possible at home.  It’s comforting to know I’m not pumping my body full of plastic and preservatives and cancer.  The meat doesn’t have red slime added to it.  It’s just meat.  Everything is a product of South Africa.  Even Coke products, which have an ingredient list 4 ingredients long. 

Then there are the cars and trucks (or bakkie as they say in Afrikaans).  The driver is on the right hand side and they drive on the left side of the road!  It definitely took some getting used to, but now I know I could drive safely if I ever need to.  You just have to think of everything opposite.  My only problem is that I don’t look the right way when crossing the road on foot.  I’ve very nearly gotten hit a few times when out and about. 

Then there are the people!  I am quickly falling in love with everyone I am surrounded by every day.  Everyone here speaks both English and Afrikaans, usually a smattering of the two mixed together.  I am quickly picking up Afrikaans, too.  I understand more and more every day, though I’m sure speaking it will be a very different process!  Anyways, they swear up the wazoo and throw insults at each other constantly.  I’ve found that in the Afrikaans culture (at least Western Cape) sarcasm is a way of showing that you like someone and enjoy his or her presence.  So if an insult is thrown your way, you better well have a good comeback and fast.  Luckily, those of you who know me very well know, sarcasm is my “love language” as I like to call it.  So I find that fitting in here has been the easiest transition for me.  I have witty battles with everyone here constantly, and we laugh a lot.  That’s what I’m beginning to love about here at the park, that we laugh often.

Then there’s the environment itself.  I am surrounded by mountains on every side, which are bare rock and backed by forests full of a population of leopard.  Yes, leopard!  We have scrublands on all sides, with a wine vineyard to the South.  The nearby town of Paarl is nestled in a rocky valley.  The land is truly beautiful, the earth is red.  There has been the most perfect weather every day I’ve been here.  Only one day so far was rainy, and that rain was truly blessed!  Did you know that Toto was right all along?  Also African rains smell different than back home.  Maybe it’s because the Indian Ocean is so close, or the mountains, or the different plants.  But it smells sweeter, and more raw if that makes sense.  This place is absolutely charged with a deep power that you can feel if you’re looking for it.  And the wind is different too.  It’s strange to think that a wind from the South brings cold, and wind from the North brings heat.  Plus the wind buffets around the mountains, it seems a fickle thing as it constantly changes direction.

Lastly, there is the night.  My old friend Orion watches over me every night, my friendly winter warrior.  He’s been my favorite constellation for as long as I can remember.  He appears only in winter back home, and winter brings so much joy to me.  So it makes sense that he would follow me to an African winter.  But he’s the only constellation I recognize.  The stars to the South are completely alien to me.  And it’s like staring into a void.  The night sky is so deeply black it’s almost blue, and you can always see the Milky Way (which Nina told me in German literally translates to “Milk Street” – fun fact of the day).  When I turn my light off every night, I am surrounded by the night noises of this piece of heaven I’ve found.  There are peepers (frogs), little mice that squeal to one another, once in a while a squawk from one of the swans, a chirp from Rupert the caracal, the scream of an owl or kite (not sure which), and the lions.  Oh, the lions.  There is nothing so powerful or bone shaking as the roar of these lions at night.  Once one starts, the rest follow.  And they’re usually the loudest around 3 or 4 am when it’s the darkest.  And I love every bit of it.

The beautiful night sky

So that is where I leave you, friends.  My heart is truly happy here.  And knowing that I’m right where I’m meant to be is all I need. 

Ps. 104:21-2  “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.  When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.”

I’m working on being a young lion.  Seeking, seeking, seeking.



p.s.  Random thought of the day:  I want to learn how to play the banjo.  Eric James, start learning!


  1. I am so blessed to be able to read your musings and all about the life in South Africa!
    Clawhammer or picking banjo? You know Jon plays clawhammer banjo!

    1. Hey Kels...that was me...not Jon! (But I only have his google account to post!)