Afrikaaners Don’t Eat Their Young… Right?
By Neil and Merle Berman
“O God, dis die Pa.”
(Translation from Afrikaans: “O God, it’s the father!”* Note: Afrikaans culture is patriarchal. The father is the consummate authority, never questioned, and never crossed.)
“There are lions behind that mound,” the cook told our guide, Mike. A moment later, a compact, sinewy lion emerged from the bushes 30 yards away, strolling towards our rudimentary campsite. I turned to see how Mike was reacting. “It’s a young male. He’s just curious, not hungry. Stand still and don’t make a sound,” he said confidently. My daughters turned to me, searching my face for guidance. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind. The truck was only 10 yards away, enough time for two girls to make it to safety, maybe three, but definitely not all of us. I had this crazy vision of two of them getting stuck in the door of the truck, and being bitten from behind… Suddenly I noticed that somehow the cook was already sitting in the truck — how did he get there? After about two seconds, it became clear: I had no idea what to do. Mike was our guide, experienced in dealing with this kind of situation, and I had no choice but to entrust the safety of my family to him. I signaled my daughters to follow Mike’s directions; the lion strolled around our campsite, and then casually departed.
We had just returned to our campsite from a game drive. My wife and I had had spent a little time in the Botswana bush before we emigrated to U.S. and always wanted to give our three American daughters a taste of Africa, to see what it was like to be visitors in the animals’ environment rather than having them as guests in ours. Now they knew.
Mike was our charismatic twenty-something guide. Shedding mirrors, cell phones, and television for a makeshift canvas-frame shower and a portable potty happened easily as we absorbed instructions for survival from our fearless leader. Under his direction, we saw lions, wild dog, hyena, hippos, giraffe, and many different varieties of antelope. We survived an elephant cow ramming the front of our truck, aggressively protective of her young baby. Mike fixed the truck, prepared our food, spotted our game, protected us. Every night, he regaled us with tales of safari trips with labile groups of Italians or filming cigarette commercials among formidable wild life. My wife and I listened, fascinated, our daughters hanging on every word.
Traditionally, the final night of such a trip was a “civilized” dinner at a hotel in the town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Mike and his brother Pattie, also a safari guide, joined us. The evening was pleasant enough, but the two young guides clearly had something else in mind. Before we knew it, they had secured our permission to take our two older daughters to a local disco.
How could I refuse? After all, Mike had protected us from irascible hippos and a lion that was presumably not hungry. I had entrusted my family’s welfare and security to Mike for the past ten days.
One a.m., two a.m., three a.m. passed. I paced the hotel grounds. What was I thinking? Letting my daughters go off with two strange young men to a disco in a foreign country? At 3:10, a car roared into the parking lot. Mike stumbled out one door, beer in one hand, my oldest daughter’s hand in the other.
“O God, dis die Pa!”
Our daughter’s assurances that everything was okay contrasted comically with the expression of total terror on Mike’s face. Mike was now just a young suitor dealing with the girl’s father. All semblance of his authority dissipated. We were no longer in the bush.
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