Sunday, May 25, 2008

how do you solve a problem like... angry elephants?

I’m afraid I have to backtrack into the recesses of my memory for this blog entry. I’m afraid it’s terribly dated. Like, over 2 months dated. But stories don’t expire, I believe, only our desire to tell them. And I’m working on that…

Ok... so there was that harrowing trip to Kigali… where we got stuck for 2 days in Nairobi with leaking air-conditioners and dead bodies. Then we (myself, Amanda and Justin) arrived in Rwanda where we were joined by the other von Trapp children and a host of Saddleback volunteers from southern California.

My job for the next 2 weeks? To chaperone the von Trapps. I would lie if I said I didn’t get a bit of a Maria complex (whatever that means). The children took to calling me “Fraulein Maggie” and, “Mother Maggie” and I, in turn, took to referring to them as… well… “the children” It was a grand old time: singing in trees, camping with hippopotami… but I get ahead of myself.

It wasn’t long before the whole country found out that von Trapps were 1) a singing group and, 2) indeed, the real descendents of the real von Trapp family. As reported in the local paper, the grand-children of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

(pause for laugh)

The paper also called Melanie “Merlyn”, (Pronounced like the wizard) which was another occasion for much laughter. We will never let her forget that.

(mellie and her camera... and an impressed woman in red)

It wasn’t long before we were coerced into singing the Rwandan National Anthem for none other than the President of Rwanda… To be performed for his “Presidential Advisory Committee”, who meets biannually to discuss the future of the country. It was no small ordeal. Long story short, we ended up on national television… every night for the next week. Sofie woke us up at 6am the day of the performance to drill the Kinyarwandan. I never really learned the words and, like a bum, mouthed through a few parts. I know, I know. Pretty bad. But the singing earned us a weekend at the President’s farm and the gift of a Rwandan long-horned cow, for Justin … (to remain in Rwanda)… so I would say that we made out well.

While my parents were there (!) we took advantage of being part of the saddleback crew and rode on their helicopter rides and ate at their fancy dinners.

(this is me and my dad in a helicopter... in case you didn't figure that out)

Parents left. Sadness all around. Real adventure begins.

After our singing debut, we took a trip east to Akagara game park to see some Girraffes and Elephants. We planned to camp for the evening. We were told that everything would be provided: cooking supplies, sleeping bags, etc.

We should have known.

So, after spending the afternoon being gawked at in the local village while we bartered for blankets, spoons and plastic plates, we finally made it to the park. We had two options for a campsite, we were told: The first site was on the top of a hill, overlooking the park. The second was a more rugged site, near the lake where a tribe of angry elephants was known to wander.

“I don’t recommend you go near the elephants” , our guide said, “they are especially angry at the moment”
As you can probably guess, we chose the second site. Not by my choice...“The children” insisted. “If you don’t go, we will” they said. What else could I do? I agreed saying “if we live through this, and anyone asks, it was your idea.”
As we drove up to the campsite in our safari vehicle, there they were: Snorffling and squashling around in the shallow water: not 1, not 2 but 5 Hippopotami, 5 METERS FROM US!

(our campsite, the morning after. the hippos were right on the bank)

[For those of you who don’t know, Hippopotami are, by far, the most dangerous animal in Africa. They easily kill more people than lions or tigers in a given year (I’ll admit, I just made up that statistic… but I know that it’s partly true. If you want to argue the point, don’t. I don’t care enough… but go online and research it yourself). So I am freaking out. “The children” (including my two little brothers), don’t get that anything about this is scary, and our guide (William, who goes by “Willy” says “as long as you start a fire, they won’t come near you.” He also says “if you make weird noise, the Elephants might charge”. Great, I’m with my brothers and the von Trapps who are virtually made of weird noises. Our chances of survival are slim to none.]

So then our wonderful guard builds us a fire and says “I will go get more wood. I will be back in 20 minutes.”
2 hours later find us in the pitch-black night of the African bush, with barely flickering coals and no guide in sight…. and Thomas didn’t understand why I wouldn’t let him play his harmonica.

Finally, we saw a pair of headlights in the distance. William was back. With 8 guards armed with machine guns. Beautiful, I thought. If this isn’t roughing it, I don’t know what is.

“They will protect you” William said.

“I can see that” I replied.

However, they soon decided it was time to return to their “posts” (I still don’t get why he brought them in the first place. Probably just to see the freaked-out white girl).

“I will be right back” William said.

“Ooooohhhoho no you won’t.” I said, and hopped into the driver’s side of the car. “I will take them. Let’s go.”

So I drove 8 men through the African bush in a safari vehicle… in the middle of the night. I was pretty awesome there for a moment. Too bad it was just me.

(We will now pause, for a moment, and feel sorry for Maggie)

So the guys I thought were there to “protect us” were really stationed 3 miles away. I didn’t really get how, if I were to get attacked by an elephant, they would be close enough to do anything… but I figured there was nothing I could do. I mean, I could have forced them to sleep outside my tent… but I don’t think that would have gone over well. Seeing as they were the ones with the machine guns.

So, I get back to camp. We eat a wonderful dinner of hand-packed meatballs and grilled vegetables. William told us some war stories (more to come) and we ate chocolate pudding and African tea. When I wasn’t thinking about the Hippopotomi, looking at me and snorting in the water, it was a magical evening. Camping in Africa: Doesn’t get much better than that.
Went to bed. But couldn’t sleep. You know the sound of someone getting out a bathtub? Well, I heard that sound, times 10, followed by some russling in the grass.

“did you hear that?” I asked Sofie.

“yeah” she said… in a quavery voice.

“that’s it, I’m out. I’m going to sleep in the car.” I said… and horizontally dove out of the tent, cluching my clothes-pillow and blanket as I went (If any of you remember my story about falling out of the subway in London, the action was somewhat similar).

And that’s how it ended. I deserted the 6 children to be eaten alive by wild-african elphants and fell asleep with a crick in my neck.

The next day, we woke up. Which was a surprise. We drove around all day, sitting on the roof of the car.

(kids on the roof)

Saw all sorts of animals: Giraffes, Baboons, Water-buffalo. There’s nothing like seeing them in the wild… absolutely nothing like it.

(zebras. not to insult your intelligence)

That evening, we drove across country to see the world famous gorillas in their natural habitat.

(justin with the gorillas)

(anthony, the documentarian)

Well, I didn’t really go (been there, done that), but stayed back to chill at Jungle-Jack-Hanna’s ranch house. Suffering for the Lord, I know. It was a hard weekend. When the kids came back, delirious and dehydrated, we spent the afternoon playing soccer with the local children and eating chocolate-chip pancakes.

It was overwhelmingly cute.

and then we went to dinner on top of the mountain

with our dear friend, Matt Smith

(do you like how i'm breaking up the sentences to match the pictures? I thought you'd like that...)

(dinner with matt)

The next day we went to the before mentioned farm… where Justin received the gift of a long-horned cow that will remain in Rwanda for safe keeping. We drank fresh yogurt (from the long-horned cow) and played ghost-in-the-graveyard with the President’s kids and 6 bodyguards.

We made our way back that evening and spent the night at Eric (my bosses) house. They threw us a party. It was a families who sing together party. Eric’s wife and all 9 of her sisters sang for us… and the von Trapps followed in turn. Another 5 star evening.

And then… they left. And THAT was a sad day. Except for the part where I figured out how to get a V.I.P tag, sneak into the boarding gate, and buy peanut M&Ms in the duty free shop.

Ok. I will now go and write another blog.

Joy to the world,

Marge-- the white girl