Should you decide
to take a safari here
you might want to consider
packing some meager comforts of home,
even though they will do little
to protect you from
such haunting newness.
But still, take a two-day supply of patience,
ear plugs, sleeping pills, a few good books,
a thick journal and a pound of prevention,
the comprehensive pill bag
with compartments for each ail.
If you plan on foreign intimacy,
don’t rely on public bathrooms
to supply your protection—
be prepared with your own custom size.
For game rides, snatch volumes
of insect repellant and sunscreen
and a wrinkled ribbed hat,
to shield your neck
from the last blow
of the jungle’s sunset
in this place which will
remind you of the reason for living.
All drinks and foods
echo travelogue warnings,
specified by tropical disease doctors
written with daunting stories
of the perils of lifelong parasites
and flat admonishments
about this disease-infested land.
I reflect upon the Aztecs and Indians
decimated by steel and germs
and I fear the revenge of the aborigines
passed out invisibly during handshakes,
while my latent cancer cells
which I carry in my mind and marrow,
must never be awakened
under the stars of this dark continent.
I slip through my day
and suckle from sealed bottles
with an ongoing digestive paranoia.
This morning as I sat reading my book
inside the empty breakfast tent,
my eyes caught some stirrings
on a buffet of exotic cheeses.
A family of funny monkeys
from a neighboring tree were tempted
by this edible fermentation, as they
sprang themselves onto
the decorated elongated table.
I stood up and tip-toed in their direction.
After another monkey spotted me
and stared deep into my green eyes,
warning me to leave, he tossed
himself onto a nearby branch,
cheese dangling from his primate mouth.
The hostess announced her presence
and clapped them away while another rascal
dropped slippery green grapes to the ground
and scurried up yet another tree.
He glanced back at me like a naughty child
who understands a forehead
written with punishment,
like the one given to my children
during their own mischievous moments.
I do not want to be a parent—
all I want to do is chuckle
and slowly sip my coffee
and skip along with my day.
While traveling this continent,
my safari pants’ pockets
brim with Western remedies
to fend off threatened diseases
as germs and parasites conspire against me
within the waters and dense canopies.
We breathe and touch
strange sleeping and sucking ails,
unknown and unspeakable
on every fearsome occasion.
I reach down for the disinfectant
but do not want to touch the spot
laden with lurking dangers.
Under my breath I give thanks
to all the scientists who stand single file
awaiting kudos for their
nestled between me and the fatal demons.
It is an early Botswana morning
and the dew clings to the mellow marsh.
Through our binoculars
we scan for animals, while our driver
points down to dung beetle tracks.
As a city girl, I see only a bare swamp,
until this round tennis-ball-size
mound of mud transports itself
across a closed concave path.
While my naked eyes morph into magnifiers,
the beetle pushes along, as his female
clings for life onto the perimeter of this ball
of elephant dung once mistaken for mud.
Mr. Dung rolls his straight school ruler’s edge line,
and he advances as fast as he can.
As he propels forth his breeding ground,
I wonder what it might look like
if I rolled my king-sized bed up Fifth Avenue
during my own mating season.
As we gather our belongings
hunched over suitcases
set for the trip home, I glance
down at my five pairs of safari shorts,
warm wool socks and rain jackets
and wonder about their future use.
At breakfast we hear our guide
speak of once-a-month ten dollar bus rides
to visit families, and my heart
bleeds into his story
as I realize how there is really little we can do
to redress his life here in Zimbabwe
where houses are vandalized, burned
and run down and where natives
labor long hours for food
or clothing and where currency
holds no meaning.
I march to my tent and grab
the laundry basket hidden beneath my bed
to pile my safari clothes, folded in neat piles.
I tromp up the hill grasping its handles
to tell our guide that my stuff is for his people.
He turns around and hugs me tight
and with a shattered sense of love says,
“You made me a spiritual millionaire!”—
And I feel my blood bubble with joy.
You can have the Bahamas, Figi, and Belize.
You can have Club Med and Pebble Beach Golf Resort.
Now, the only place that tugs me is a
faraway world with hidden surprises,
where barefoot young pilots
land and take off on short gravel runways
as sweat drips from my brow of curiosity.
So return the fluffy softened towels,
perfumed personally wrapped soaps,
roll-on suitcases and collapsible luggage racks
and take in nature singing at sunrise,
lighting the dance of barefoot smiling maids
lugging buckets of homemade detergents
down long winding wooden paths,
fresh-baked breads and open markets.
They will bestow you with memories
guaranteed to make you weep, even
if you live your time there in unforgettable fear.