Ode to La Jirafa (Uganda on my Mind #3)
For one of my high school English classes I had to write an essay on the following topic… If you could be any animal in the world, which would you be, and why? I knew right away which animal I would write about. I was like that kid from A Christmas Story on Santa’s lap, who just knew for fact that, against all opposition, that he wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun. My obsession for the marvelous, spotted creatures began several years before the day that fateful assignment was given.
My introduction for that essay went a little something like this:
“Tall above the luscious, green-topped trees, the native giraffe takes a long glance over the beautiful, African plain, while standing with poise and dignity. Long, sturdy legs under the longest neck of any mammal, provide support while a spotted coat adds to its individuality. Many of the good and interesting qualities of a giraffe are parallel to those of myself.”
I have to applaud my self-awareness at the ripe ol’ age of 17… high-five. But if only I could go back and tell that poor girl a few things…which I probably will in another installment of “Letters to my Hypothetical Child.” Anyways, I go on in my essay to talk about how I think a giraffe could relate to my life, that I often felt like “A single fork amongst a million knives, or a giraffe surrounded by house cats.” I was always the weird kid laying in the grass with my nose in a book or simply staring at the sky, not to mention my odd physical makeup. I was deathly skinny and taller than everyone, with pasty white skin, frizzy red hair, freckles, braces, glasses, missing teeth, you name it. I was the queen of the ‘awkward years.’ I remember thinking that I could relate to a giraffe, so lanky and random, so seemingly out of place. I wondered if they were ever self-conscious or if they were proud of their difference from the norm. The weird and majestic image of these creatures became my personal metaphor and it still seems to fit.
I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to see them in their natural home, I wanted to, but I assumed traveling to Africa was out of my league. But after a couple of years of putting money away for the airfare, we were there.
Our guide for the day, Sam, told me that we would probably see a giraffe but nothing was certain since they move in and out of the park on a daily basis. I couldn’t imagine not seeing one, so I kept my hopes up. It was early in the morning about 20 minutes after we started our game drive when I saw a cluster of them about 50 meters off the road. I yelled (quietly, but urgently) “Stop!” I jumped out of the Land Rover and onto the red-dirt earth. I ran in front of the truck, not worried about predators or rules (or scaring them away). This was it, the culmination of all my giraffe fantasies.
Then they ran from me…I can’t imagine why.
Tears gently welled up in my eyes. My mind was cluttered with thoughts and emotion. Don’t run…I want to be your friend…I am your people…can I grab your mane, swing my leg over and ride you around the savanna…it’ll be like the Wild Wild West, Africa Edition…are these the only giraffes I will ever see in the wild, running away from me!?!? It was bittersweet and confusing. Thankfully, my worries did not come true, but neither did my dreams of galloping off into the sunset atop one of them.
The next one I saw was nestled in the tall grass, still resting from the night before. I have heard that it is fairly rare to see them lying down. I had a serious moment with this beauty.
Then there were more, many, many more. The Universe sent me oodles of them that day. I remember watching this one cross the road in front of us with its lengthy, graceful stride. They have swagger when they move and it seemed very unintentional yet steady and balanced.
This guy has done some living on the edge as evidenced by the missing ear and scars on the neck. I wonder what the story is…