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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

In Which We Are Nearly Trampled by an Elephant at Midnight

(Continued from The Long Road to Rushaga.)



We fell into our tents that night, tired and happy to be reunited sooner than expected. When Jill and I woke up the others were already off on their gorilla trek, and we had a languid morning—fresh fruit for breakfast and “showers” before walking back to Rushaga for a tour of the village.



No tap? No problem!


The village walk was fun, if a little awkward at times. Inescapably you become—as if you weren’t already!—a very silly tourist. That said, we really enjoyed watching the ladies dancing and weaving trivets and baskets. (I’d intended to post a video I took of the dancing, but now that it’s time it doesn’t feel quite right to put it up. Does this make sense? Maybe it will if you keep reading.) Everyone was very kind and friendly, and genuinely so, as far as we could tell.







The schoolhouse.


This may look like poverty by first-world standards, but we got the sense that the people of Rushaga were quite content with their lives. Enuth, our guide, told us that everyone here is adequately fed—that all their basic needs are met.



The children outside their new schoolhouse, built with funds raised and labor donated by an American tourist.


Still, it was hard not to feel horrified by the state of their schoolhouse, and I was very awkwardly aware of how privileged (and therefore ridiculous) I must look as an American tourist. We’re told on the nightly world news and charity infomercials that children all over the African continent are living and dying in abject poverty, and it’s hard to tell how “typical” a place like Rushaga is when their situation just outside a national park no doubt greatly benefits their economy.

What I’m trying to say is, I felt grateful all over again for the many blessings and opportunities I’ve been handed, but at the same time I didn’t want to think of the people I was greeting as deprived in any way. An unresolvable paradox, I suppose.



Tree bark. Not sure if the orange stuff is fungus or what.


After our tour of the village, Jill went back to rest and Enuth took me past the camp to the most perfect waterfall I’ve ever seen. On a hill across the narrow valley I spotted Spencer coming back from his gorilla trek and called to him that we’d be eating lunch soon, which felt a little bit magical—finding the familiar inside the unfamiliar—or at least way more coincidental than it actually was.





Replanning our itinerary by lamplight.


We had a lovely (if wonky) meal that evening—including freshly made guacamole served with potato wedges. Jill and I stayed up late having a heart to heart (they happen naturally enough when you are tent-mates), and around midnight one of the camp staff came over to ask if we had any pineapples in our tent.

Wha? (Of course not. Rule #1 of camping = no food in the tent.) The man explained that an elephant had been spotted in the forest outside the village, but not to worry, they’d be awake and vigilant all night long. Elephants love pineapple, apparently.

(Oh, and have I mentioned that there are no protective barriers between campsite and forest?)

Jill and I kept talking for another hour or so, and then I got up to pee. Contrary to what the attendant had told us, no one appeared to be around or awake. A few minutes later, bladder relieved and all ready for beddy-bye, I reached for the tent zipper…and heard a stomping noise, and the sound of cracking branches and shuddering leaves, in the trees just beyond the campsite.

I froze. And heard it again.

SHIT! SHIT SHIT SHIT! We are about to be trampled by an elephant and we can’t see a thing!

Jill was still awake, of course. She followed me down to the cabana where our meals were served, and we only briefly wondered if we were overreacting. (Hells no, we weren’t overreacting! A day or two before a mama elephant had nearly charged the Land Cruiser, an experience which dosed us with a healthy fear of elephants. We’d unintentionally driven between her and her baby.)

Kate and Elliot came down a minute later, having heard the stomping noises for themselves. Spencer was wearing earplugs, but we finally managed to rouse him, and we all grabbed our sleeping bags and piled into an empty banda.




(A banda is a one-room hut; ours had three single beds in it. We made do.) From a journal entry the following day:

At first I couldn’t get settled in the banda—too much nervous energy—and when I realized Jill was chewing Nicorette to calm down and now had to figure out how to dispose of it, I cracked up giggling, and eventually Elliot cried out in exasperation, “I feel like I’m camping with a bunch of three year olds!”

Sorry for keeping you awake, Sir Pooh. In the morning we ventured out of the banda to find our tents intact, but I don’t feel the slightest bit ridiculous for being on the safe side. Besides, it’s the best story of the trip.


(All Uganda and Rwanda entries.)

2 Comments to In Which We Are Nearly Trampled by an Elephant at Midnight

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    November 20, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure Elliot actually heard it–I forced him to get up. I’m pretty sure we were being ridiculous 😉

  2. November 20, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    My next heffalump trap will definitely use a pineapple, and I will neck a langer load of Aldi’s African coffee to make sure I don’t fall asleep as I keep lookout.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.