Transport to Adventure
Reports of a pod of hippos sighted in the Shabelle River a few kilometers from Mogidishu inspired a group of expats to organize a day trip to see for ourselves. From Part Five: Somalia Safaris, Chapter 17 of Voluntary Nomads here we go ---
Hunting for Hippos
The Kilometer 25 sign was missing, but Dakota's sharp eyes spotted the jeep track. Past the turn, the primitive road wound among trees about two miles to the place Fred's colleague had mapped to show us where to look for hippos. As our trucks slithered along in the deep sand I remarked on the lush growth of vegetation. Trees and bushes crowded the track and branches scraped a shrill screech along the sides of our vehicles. Rounding a long curve we saw our destination – a clearing among the trees, the perfect place to park and picnic.
While Jo Ellen, Flynn and I brought out the coolers and unfurled our picnic blankets, the rest of the group went off on various missions. Fred and Margie bushwhacked toward the river, hoping to locate the hippos and find a satisfactory observation post. Hippos are dangerous, unpredictable animals. So are their neighbors, the crocodiles. Because our group of children ranged in age from five to eleven years, we needed to take extra safety precautions. Like the animals, kids can be unpredictable at times.
Before joining the other kids on a sweep of the picnic area to gather kindling, Tina had an urgent request. She stood on tiptoe to whisper in my ear, "Mom, I have to pee."
"Me too. Let's head for the bushes."
We had learned about the benefits of wearing a skirt as the Muslim women did for modesty. A skirt also provided more privacy for impromptu pit stops. We found a clear spot in the thicket. Together we lifted skirts, lowered panties, squatted, pulled panties out of the line of fire, and tinkled. As we finished and began readjusting our clothes, I heard Fred calling our names. A sudden eruption of wild cacophony answered his shouts.
Crashing and thrashing and hooting and barking drowned out Fred's voice. I looked at Tina. Tina looked at me. We both looked for Fred.
Fred stood still as a statue. An agitated baboon faced him, pounding his chest, barking and yakking. Long sharp fangs glistened in his wide red mouth. He lunged at Fred in short bursts, threatening again and again. Louder and louder he shrieked and hooted. Tina closed her eyes and covered her ears. I wrapped my arms around her. Fred stood his ground.
The baboon flashed his eyelids at machinegun speed and yawned wide to show his teeth. Fred squared his shoulders and straightened up as tall as a superhero. Baboon and Man locked eyes in a stare down.
I held my breath. The long minute stretched taut until the baboon broke his gaze and pierced the silence with one last loud yak. He leaped sideways and crashed away through the bushes.
Fred ran to us and we dragged each other, trip-stumble-run, to the picnic site, looking behind, feeling baboon eyes on our backs. When we felt safe again among our friends at the picnic area, we tried to figure out what had happened. I thought the baboon objected to us outsiders making "marks" on his territory. Tina believed the baboon saw us as predators and was trying to scare us off. Fred decided the baboon had fallen in love and wanted Tina and me for his harem.
After lunch the group sat around the fire, roasted marshmallows, and reflected on the day. Each one in turn described a favorite experience. Tina was the last to speak. With the wisdom of an eight-year-old she said, "Well, I guess you never know what might happen when you go hunting for hippos." ###
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