It had been a hot, dry, and somewhat harrowing three weeks in the African bush, so I was glad to be back in the capitol city for a week of R&R. There I rediscovered the luxuries of a hot bath, clean cloths, and an air-conditioned room. But I saved the greatest luxury for last: an afternoon in the bar of the old colonial hotel.
The pub was a fine old establishment that featured a sixteen-foot mahogany bar with a polished brass foot rail, a back-glass gone wavy with age, and a enough hanging ferns and potted palms to outfit a botanical garden. Overhead fans circulated a subtle breeze. And there wasn’t a crocodile in site.
Probably due to the mid-afternoon hour, there were only two patrons in the bar, me and a flaxen-haired young woman whom I guessed to be around twenty-five. She seemed friendly enough, so I chatted her up a bit.
“Here on vacation?” I asked.
“Oh, no sir, I live here.”
“Here in the city?”
“No, out in the country. My family has a farm there.”
“For how long?”
“Oh, for many generations.”
As we talked more I learned that her family had been among the South African Boers that had settled in this region in the nineteenth century. The Boers were Dutch by heritage. That explained the flaxen hair. I learned further that the family farm was in the region not far from where I had been for the last three weeks.
I had a hard time visualizing this woman and her family living in such an environment. I mentally catalogued the horrors I had encountered: a pack of African wild dogs that had taken down a full size Cape Buffalo, a pair of lionesses whose unanticipated appearance out of the elephant grass had given a guide a fatal heart attack, a close encounter with a black mamba snake whose venom can kill a man in a matter of seconds, a confrontation with a truckload of African soldiers who were prepared to shoot us as spies until we gave them our shortwave radio, a white-knuckle drive across a two-thousand foot gorge over a bombed out bridge that reminded me of a cat with a broken back. Scariest of all, I was watching an African family wade single-file across a river when a crocodile snatched the last child in line and carried him off somewhere downstream. The family had weeped and wailed for a few minutes then moved on. All in all, it seemed to me, no place for a young woman to be living on a farm. This wasn’t Kansas.
“You’re American, aren’t you?” the young woman asked.
“Yes I am,” I answered. “Ever been there?”
“No sir, I haven’t.”
“What do you know about America?”
“Just what I see on the television.”
“Would you like to come visit someday?”
Her face registered genuine horror. “Oh, no sir, it’s much too dangerous there.”