“I’m pretty sure no one here has a single clue as to what they’re doing.”
Somewhere between the third and eighth security check, my negativity went from frustration to sadness to anger. It made scheduled on-time stops at “what the fuck?” and “you’ve got to be kidding me!” I’m immensely familiar with both neighborhoods.
I had arrived in Kenya a few weeks earlier with the rehearsed acceptance of an intellectual, tolerant liberal. “Their way is not wrong or right, it’s just different!” I’d tell myself at the first, second, and four-hundredth illogical inconvenience. And I’d traveled enough to know that each one of those illogical inconveniences was lining up in anticipation of my arrival.
I came from the air-conditioned, 246-years-removed-from-colonization Land of the Free. I’m a white man from a country—and planet—where white men historically get their way, and my expectations of “how things ought to be” are often just thinly-veiled privilege.
I know all of that.
I knew it going in, and knew myself well enough to start my dosage of anti-malarial and anti-ugly-American regimens before arrival in a hot zone. Meditation and chloroquine: the modern well-traveled person’s gin and tonic. Best served with actual gin and tonics.
Or is it gins and tonic? Like “attorneys general” Or “Whoppers Junior?”
For an amazing and personal-best two weeks, I went with the predictably unpredictable flow.
I had my moments, but I kept them to myself. I fully experienced the angst yet chose to remain centered.
I’m quite certain the woman selling beaded necklaces between lanes on the highway could’ve used my impromptu and pro bono business consultancy. I’m equally certain she didn’t want it. No one does.
I’m sure then-President Uhuru Kenyatta would have enjoyed some heady banter with a random American tourist in re: what Kenya should do to alleviate the country’s deeply rooted corruption problem. Alas, the sight of guards stationed outside his residence, armed as they were with Kalashnikovs and poor trigger discipline, persuaded me to bite my tongue. That, plus I didn’t have enough shillings to gain an audience.
Assisting me in my quest to be a credit to my country were two important, beautiful factors: Kenya itself, and my partner.
Kenya is incredible. As is my partner, who puts up with me and has a successful career that keeps her perpetually dealing with the insanity of the developing world. The fact that she hasn’t roundhouse-kicked anyone (namely me) in the face is a testament to her singular badassery.
But this story is about Kenya.
It’s a stunningly beautiful country. And the wildlife alone is reason enough to visit. Name an animal you associate with Africa, and I probably saw several versions of it. Unless, of course, you’re a child/moron/former president and say something like “tiger!” or “dragon!” which are from Asia and imaginary, respectively. But I saw herds/prides/packs of damned near everything else, usually just a few feet away.
A few years back when I visited South Africa, I saw two bull rhinos fighting for territory. Seeing two truck-sized beasts spar for mating rights was objectively awe-inspiring. Of course, my heartfelt “awe” came out as “HOLY FUCKING SHIT, ARE YOU SEEING THIS?” which is the primary reason I’m never called upon by the ecclesiastical powers to write hymns.
That, and I’m a noted heathen.
Kenya got wind of my “once in a lifetime” experience in rival South Africa (“eh, that’s not really Africa,” according to Paul, a Kenyan I met), and tossed something equally rare yet unexplainably more Kenyan into the mix:
Two lions fucking.
Fun fact: when it’s time to mate, a daddy lion and a mommy lioness who really love each other separate from the pride for five days. During this literal and figurative “business week,” they mate approximately every fifteen minutes for about three seconds each time. No eating. No hunting. No snuggling.
It is just short bursts of large cat sex as God intended it.
That last line should be sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to fully embody my awe at cat-fuckery. If you didn’t do that instinctively, please go back and do so now. Those ecclesiastic powers that be are really missing out on a generational talent.
We happened upon two adult lions together (apparently, simultaneously pre- and post-coitus,) and thought it was awesome merely to see a lion and lioness so close up. They’re beautiful creatures, obviously, but you’ve no doubt seen The Lion King, so you know what I’m talking about.
Just then, the lights dimmed, R&B started playing, and the HOLY FUCKING SHIT, ARE YOU SEEING THIS ensued. Bravo and brava, Simba and Nala. If you’d like business consulting on monetizing your show, just DM me.
Note: if you happen upon two lions getting busy, and you understandably want to give them a standing ovation, don’t. Lions view a Land Rover full of tourists as one large, non-threatening, non-food animal. However, they see “standing tourists sticking out of a Land Rover” as tasty l’il appeteasers. Contain your awe and stay seated.
But even beyond fucking and non-fucking wild animals, Kenya was amazing. They should put that on the brochures: Kenya: Even Beyond Fucking and Non-Fucking Wild Animals, We’re Amazing.
The people are genuinely kindhearted and hospitable. The food is delicious—I had a Swahili fish curry that was one of the most layered, well-seasoned, and flavorful things I’ve ever eaten. I swam in the Indian Ocean, watched the sunset from a dhow, and experienced the singular insanity of Nairobi traffic.
And I awakened several times to cacophonous five a.m. calls to prayer from two nearby mosques on Lamu Island. I don’t understand Arabic, but I can only assume by their proximity and overlapping of prayers that they were mixing in some shade on one another as they chanted.
“Allah loves this mosque better than He loves yooooourrrrrrsssss.”
“No, Allah called me personally and said He prefers cleaning sloppy donkey stalls to listening to your atonal chaaaannnnntttinnnngggg.”
A “dry drunk” is someone who has decided to be sober and—rather than drilling down as to why they drink and how to cope without booze—is now muscling their way through sobriety via sheer will. Sounds noble, but it leaves the person wide open to triggers with no real developed tools to dodge them. Worse, it gives the person a false sense of bravado as to how easily they’re remaining sober. From what I understand, it’s a dangerous time in the recovery process.
I’m not much of a drinker these days, but I am prone to a different detrimental habit: getting disproportionately pissy when normal situations go sideways.
That is to say, I tend to get visibly annoyed—and often rude—about simple things.
Simple things like, “there are fourteen people working but this line is moving slower than pond water,” or “it’s three degrees warmer than I want it to be.” Or assorted hardships, such as, “they don’t have any Coke Zero here?!” and “my underwear don’t fit right.”
I don’t like this quality about myself, but for the sake of transparency, here it is. Use this information to either feel closer to me or avoid me when it’s inexplicably 81 degrees in this Chipotle and my underwear appear to be in a bunch. Either option is respectable.
For two whole weeks, I practiced equanimity. I tried on what it would be like to be the person I often imagined myself to be, and what I can be in short bursts: calm in the storm, even-keeled, and gracious. Grateful. Loving.
And after two weeks, the airport departure proved to be the trigger to derailing my falsely-self-assured, muscle-it-through, dry-drunk-esque balance and poise.
Three hours of standing, waiting for the check-in counter to open. A supervisor dressing down a legion of check-in counter staff while a few hundred passengers waited for the one, finally-open check-in counter to process us. Eight—yes, eight—arbitrary stops to see passports, boarding passes, and COVID test results. Plugs that don’t work to charge your phone. Chafed grundle on account of underwear that don’t fit right. Gate change. Delay.
Deep breath. Disassociate from this nonsense, dude. Transcend it. Envision two lions fucking, Rickey. Two lions fucking. The universe is grander than this moment. Experience the gründlechafen as a passive observer. Equanimity. Namaste. Assorted other Buddhist-sounding words.
Yeah, that didn’t work.
Well, it worked to extent of “I am not presently in a Kenyan prison,” so it wasn’t a total waste of emotional energy. Staying out of Kenyan prison was my New Year’s resolution, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Still, I was a whiny, cranky dickhead by the time I got on the plane for the transatlantic flight. And I had been plenty shitty to numerous Kenyans in the waning hours of my time in their country.
Two weeks of “go with the flow,” gone. That was apparently my max.
My max so far.
On the plane, as I sipped my complimentary gins and tonic and stretched out in my Premium Economy seat for which I was earning valuable miles to be used toward future travel, I scrolled through my pictures of the trip.
Jumping with Maasai tribesmen. Wildebeests, elephants, giraffes. The Great Rift Valley. Sunsets. Hyenas, ostriches, water buffalo. Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Naivasha. Shantytowns, Nairobi, Lamu Island. The Indian Ocean and a baby donkey. My love, smiling.
The agitation of the frustrating departure faded. The reasons I had sought to fight against my cranky bitch nature in the first place returned to my active focus.
Living up to my own image. Being a good travel partner. Being a good life partner. Showing up as a gracious, happy anomaly from a country known the world over for its angry and ungrateful ugliness.
Reasons. I had reasons for stifling my reactions. For centering myself. For letting silly shit go. For actively and purposely experiencing gratitude.
It isn’t just muscling through if you’ve got reasons to do it.
To faceplant isn’t a mark of failure, it’s an expected part of the path. Your nose’s newly-found proximity to the gravel bears lessons that can’t be learned from six feet away. You just have to be open to such lessons. You can’t view the stumble as a pointless catastrophe.
It’s not pointless. It’s literally the point.
“I’m pretty sure no one here has a single clue as to what they’re doing.”
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2 thoughts on “Life Is What Happens While You’re Busy Watching Big Cats Get Busy”
Glad to find this blog. Lovely post
Very kind of you to say, thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.