There are countless commands given during a lion walk. And I’m using the word “command” intentionally. Our highly trained lion handlers are not giving mere suggestions. When I hear “watch your back” – I quickly look over my shoulder, determine which way a lion will be passing and step aside – giving him or her a wide berth.
“OK, we go,” is another command – meaning it’s time to move on to another location. This might be because it’s simply time to get the lions moving again after a lazy session on the banks of the Zambezi. Or it might be because one of the scouts has spotted wild elephant or buffalo in the area and we need to scram. Regardless of the reasoning, when I hear these instructions, I listen.
The words “C’mon, C’mon” are not a command directed at us. This one is for the lions. The handlers use it to get them moving. As volunteers, we are encouraged to call it out when the lions are lollygagging or lounging too long. These words are inevitably sung out countless times as we traipse through the bush. And at some point, the lions usually drag themselves away from their spots in the shade or their perches on the banks of the river and lumber along after us. Though I often think to myself that they look like they’d much rather stay put.
As my time here in Zambia comes to a close, I’m becoming more reflective. And the other day one of the handlers, Cephas (a biblical name pronounced “Kay-fass”), called out to us, “OK, we go.” And I thought to myself, “Yeah… OK, we go” – not thinking about unfolding myself up off the comfortable, shaded log I was sitting on but rather that it’s getting close to the time when I’ll need to depart. To move on from Zambia. And as I sit here typing, gazing out at the still river during my mini-break on Bovu Island, I feel like I want to throw up. I don’t want to leave Zambia. I want to stay put. It hasn’t been long enough. How can the next part of this journey possibly live up to this past month? These people I’ve met – the handlers and the project staff and the volunteers – how can anyone possibly compare to them? And the lions!? What about the lions? Will I ever get to stroke a lion’s hot-from-the-Zambian-sun fur as it slides past me again? And… cue the tears. Dammit.
Of course I have no idea what’s to come. No doubt there will be magic and mayhem and mystery and all of that. For now – I think I just need to try to behave as I do during my beloved lion walks. Be present. Stop thinking about what transpired in the past or what may happen in the future. Because I might just miss something. Like a brilliant black and white kingfisher dive-bombing fish in the Zambezi. Or a mama baboon quickly scurrying across the lawn, her twin babies clinging to her stomach. Or, god forbid, a call from my new friend Happy telling me to watch my back because a naughty lion is galloping toward me – looking overly interested in tumbling into my bare ankles.