Okay, you have worn me down. I’m definitely going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I will give you another one because your comments were so encouraging. Thanks all. The only Scripture I can think of to apply to this post is: I can do all things through Messiah which strengtheneth me (PHILI. 4:15). But how thankful I was that Father was looking after me back then.
This incident happened, I think, just before the one with the gorillas. Our truck stayed for a couple of nights in Virunga National Park, to the north of Goma and Lake Kivu but also in what was then Zaire but now the Congo.
Virunga was established in 1925 by King Albert I of Belgium specifically to protect the mountain gorillas and was the first national park in Africa. The Congo Civil War and the Rwandan Genocide took its toll on this magnificent place, damaging the forests and depleting its wildlife. According to Wikipedia, it has had a resurgence since 2008 when tourism was zero, but was up to 3000 a year in 2011. We were there before these two disastrous events and the place was AMAZING.
The truck came in across an open plain to an escarpment where we were to camp. For those who don’t know, an escarpment is a cliff falling down to a low area. So the escarpment land area is high and the land area at its base is low. This one fell down to a large river with the other bank continuing off into the distance as wetlands at the same level as the river. The view was grand.
When we arrived we all jumped out of the truck and started setting up our tents at the rear of the truck as we usually did. Afterwards, while the cooking crew readied dinner, the rest of us went over to sit with Dave, the English truck driver and our guide.
Dave said to us, “You know you’ve all set up your tents on a hippo run, don’t you?”
“No,” we all answered him, “What’s a hippo run?”
Most sagely, he says, “It’s where the hippos come up from the river at night to feed on the grass.” Yes it was a lovely grassy area. And apparently there was a pathway up the escarpment from the river.
“OMG! Why didn’t you tell us before we set up?” We all exclaimed, jumping up to go move our tents.
“I wanted to see your faces when I told you,” said the wretched Dave, laughing wickedly, “But you don’t have to move your tents,” he added, “Just don’t go outside during the night. If you get between a mother and baby hippo especially, she will charge you. But they will not walk on the tents or push them over. Sometimes they come close enough to rub against them, that’s all. You’ll hear the hippos feeding during the night, then they go back down to the river before daylight.”
With that we all relaxed and continued awaiting dinner. It was nice to have some grass to sit on. Due to space restrictions, there were no seats other than the permanently fixed ones in the truck so we had to either sit on the ground if there were no stones or logs, or squat in that peculiar Australian fashion country people have. Personally I could never bring myself to sit on dirt. Despite my life as a backpacker, I’m fastidious and cannot bear to be dirty too long. I’ll wash anywhere, even a puddle if it’s clean.
Talking about dirt, coming across the Sahara we were a sight to behold. Three inches of water a night in which to wash then rinse out the undies. Our bodies were as clean as a whistle–at least mine was, some weren’t, judging by the smells emanating from them–but we put on the same clothes for a week. I wore white shorts, a bikini top, and a white tee-shirt. They were red by the time we got to Gao in Mali. How I got them clean is another story but they left Gao whiter than when I bought them!
Anyway, to get back to the adventure at hand. After dinner and a wash, we all turned in for the night. By this time I was almost five months pregnant with my yet-to-be-born, of course, beautiful daughter Ranyhyn. I always say she went to twenty-five countries before she was born. Because of my extreme embarrassment at being pregnant on a trip across Africa–I was not aware of it when we left London where I had been living with Bruce and left him there because he couldn’t afford to come–the only people who knew were my tent mate, New Zealander Sue, and the aforementioned Chris and Bob. Chris and I were the nurses on the trip so that’s why she was told, but then Bob guessed from my ever burgeoning belly. Mind you, eventually everybody figured it out because while they all had Bali belly once or twice, I continually vomited. One particular bout of morning sickness comes to mind when I had some of Dave’s stash of mustard on the tinned corned beef sandwiches. Ever had hot English mustard come back at you through your nose? It was painful.
Nobody actually mentioned the baby situation though. I just didn’t want to worry anybody. One day I was relieved of my duties as luggage packer and water carrier, the excuse being I was becoming too tired. We all knew why by then.
We failed to factor this into the hippo situation. At some point in the early hours of the morning, being pregnant, I would need to go relieve my bladder. But, you know, there were massively huge hungry hippos out there. We could clearly hear them munching on the grass, shuffling about, and smell their very bad body odour. No wonder they lived in the water. I don’t know how they ever managed to, you know…
The horror of being crushed by an angry hippo mum forced me to hold on for hours until I could squeeze tight no longer. I would wake Sue up, she would be my lookout while I jumped out, squatted as close to the tent as possible, squirted as quickly as a bladder ever managed to squirt and jumped back in the tent hopefully before a stray hippo got me in its sights. I never actually saw a hippo in the early dawn, was too afraid to look.
The hippos really had me tied up in knots. Because we were on a river, Dave forbid us to use the stored truck water to wash so we had to go down to that RIVER, where the HIPPOS were. Somehow I managed to avoid this without being found out, especially after one of the girls was washing clothes and a hippo came up out of the water right in front of her and yawned! She lost no time at all getting lost! No, I don’t know if she went back for her clothes. I wouldn’t have.
The pinnacle of our stay there in Virunga was when we went with a ranger for a walk. He had a gun in case of lions, etc, but we were informed it had only blanks to scare them off if we were attacked. We walked along to a ferry crossing where the escarpment had tapered down to a level with the river. In the water, as we waited for the ferry, two hippos frolicked together looking like their mighty jaws were actually kissing. Or at least breathing each other’s intoxicating scent.
Along a path on the other side of the river was a village built on the lake into which the river flowed and which could be seen from our camp. There the most amazing sight greeted us. Within metres of the village a huge family of hippos lolled. They LIVED there, side by side with the people and an array of scavenger birds. The village subsisted by fishing, using lovely brightly painted handmade boats. Now why couldn’t the Congolese and Rwandans live together like these two entirely different species instead of hating and killing their own people? Truly, we can learn from animals, can’t we? Man is the only creature who makes war against his own kind. And yet we are the ones with the highest brain function. That’s what they tell us anyway. Sometimes I wonder.
There was a tiny cafe in the village in which we enjoyed drinks. And later we ate some of the fish the villagers caught in the lake right outside their front door.
Well, I don’t know if Father strengthened me in this but He sure strengthened my bladder. Many times in our lives He is there doing things for us and we are not even aware of it.