by Lisa Lopez Smith
Red dust roils about me like a pack of whirling dervishes. The bus pulls away and I’m alone again. Never look lost is one of my travel mottos, so I stride to the motorcycle taxis loitering nearby to negotiate the 22-kilometer ride into Lake Mburo Park. I may not look lost but neither do I look like I belong in this rugged Ugandan town; my white, mzungu, feet are stained with dust. Squinty-eyed, the boda-boda driver and I roar past homesteads and herds of long-horned Ankole cattle, dusty and breathless.
We immediately spot zebra in the park. There are no fences or walls to keep us apart. These herbivores are fierce, firm-footed, and in their kingdom, they know I’m lost. The stallion snorts at us, and they bolt into the green undergrowth. Just beyond, down the dirt track is a herd of Impala: tawny gold, bounding like jackrabbits, then vanishing. We drive on. Crossing the path in front of us is a family of warthogs; each pig trots, its tail like a flagpole. To one side, a mother baboon casually stares as we pass, her baby clinging to her belly.
The boda-boda driver leaves me at the open-air restaurant overlooking the sparkling lake, where the hippos snort and snuffle and exhale with great blasts of water and air, before sinking, submerged again. I take in the lake, the birds, and the low, distant blue mountains, that somehow remind me of home. The kingfishers and weavers and shoebills call; the fish eagle prowls the skies above; I spot the elegant, long-legged herons and the ubiquitous marabou, the rat of the bird world. And yet, even for the noise of nature, it is tranquility. The stillness and liveliness exist all in the same moment, and I sit and I breathe, in dust-covered amazement.
Later, as I and the other tourists disembark from the small lake safari craft, we are charged by a one-eyed warthog that had been feeding nearby. It is a fake charge and the rangers laugh; they know the quirks of this odd-looking creature and the way that mzungus always shriek.
That night in my small hut, I am alone again. I awake to noises, right outside. I fumble for my phone and the frail glow of the Nokia screen is gobbled up by the absolute darkness. Cracking the door open, I peer out. The moon’s light is bright and the sky is lit with every star known to our planet. The first rains of the season have tamped down the dust and the air is filled with the scent of earth awakening. All around I can see silhouettes and movement: my hut is surrounded by animals as big as cars, grazing, close enough to touch. The chewing of these waterbuck, zebra, and impala had woken me, seemingly hundreds of them. Alone, terrified, in this dark kingdom of wild, I can’t breathe.
They chew, I exhale.
The darkness is a gift as much as the light. On the piano of emotions, it seems that this place knows each note completely; all notes belong and all are needed. They create a song that is more resonant and real than any other place I know.
I can’t take my eyes from these creatures, grazing. The stars twinkle above. My own body is made of pieces of stars and I, like these creatures, also breath and eat. Alone with just the air, earth, and animals, I breathe the delight of being lost and of wholly belonging.
About Lisa Lopez Smith
Lisa López Smith lives and writes from her home in central Mexico. Her recent publications include Sin Fronteras, Mothers Always Write, Sweet, CuiZine, and Travellin’ Mama. When she’s not wrangling rambunctious children, goats, or the current pack of six rescue dogs, she is supposed to be working on her poetry collection and novel.