It was kind of a fucked up story. My siblings and I showed up for the holidays – home from boarding school – to be greeted with packed bags and a plane ticket. We didn’t even want to be in Africa on any kind of safari, but there it was. Our parents wanted us away for Christmas to have some magnificent party. Something about champagne and a loss of memories, something about having no regrets. So the three of us would do what we always did. We would get trashed or fucked up in whatever language we had to so that we could get through our abandonment and start doing it again in English. It happened all the time and this time we were in Tanzania. Unfortunately Africa didn’t care that I was feeling dejected and hung-over.

It was an fucked up story and completely untrue. I had known my “sister” for two months, which I guess is long enough to know anyone. I’d only met my “brother” about two days before. The thing was, they were legitimately siblings while I was just going along for the ride. I don’t know why we made up the story. It was justified in the moment. There was some unexplainable bitterness, probably about missing holiday baked goods. Actually we were all just there waiting for life to start, waiting for Africa to be something huge, hoping to grasp meaning. I think I was waiting for divine inspiration. It was cliché but life is cliché, and I was fine with that. I was working on Mephlaquin- induced hallucinations and surely the two have been confused before.

I had come to Tanzania to volunteer with an organization, and I was currently on the necessary African safari. I had to pay a few hundred dollars to take the required wildlife pictures so the people back home would be affirmed in their beliefs that Africa is in fact only poverty and big game.

I met Kelsie while volunteering. She was sane and close to my age, and when you’re that close to someone you go on gnarly Land Rover photo expeditions with them. Her brother had just come for a few weeks and was really only there for the impressively unorthodox chance of telling people he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. We had decided against filling our safari car with annoying filler people even though it would have lowered the price. It was the three of us as well as our local guide, Joseph. We figured our combined age was lower than some of the other tourists we saw in the parks. Alright fine, our driver definitely pushed our total car age way over the normal life expectancy but it sounded cool anyway.

No matter how much we drove around Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater I couldn’t seem to shake the idea that we were on a Disneyland ride. I had been living in the area for months but the elephants were still a part of my Southern California theme park. It all seemed very surreal. Our Land Rover couldn’t leave the track, the animals couldn’t leave their specified living area. And while it was discouraged, my hands and arms would know no real danger outside the vehicle. It was a hell of a mindset the world had put me in. Life imitates art. Africa was fashioned after Disneyland. It depressed me a bit so I took my angst out on my imaginary parents- the same ones that did this to me and made me who I am.

“Where’s the cheetah?” I asked. “We can at the very least see some cool animals if we’re going to be homeless on Christmas.”

“Come on, that’s unfair. We saw a leopard with a kill. We saw two hyenas taunting a jackal with his dead buddy,” Jordan brought up validly. “What do you want?”

“I want to see a cheetah.”

“We saw the Big 5.”

“Dude, I don’t even know what the Big 5 is… there were at least 7 animals on that ‘Big 5 necklace’ the Maasai guy was trying to sell us.”

“These fucking people are stopped for another fucking bird,” Kelsie threw in. The fucking people in the car ahead of us were indeed stopped for another bird. Considering how narrow the road was we were also forced to stop.

“They can’t be, that’s a magpie,” Jordan pointed out. “You can see one of those anywhere.”

“No yeah, they are.”

We threw around threats and insults for a while, knowing they were too far away to hear us.

“We should tell them our sob story,” I mused. “I wonder how they would react to it.” The group of middle-aged people in front of us looked like they were all overdue for a midlife crisis. They were the kind of people who jumped on the idea of a safari through the Serengeti to bring spice into their lives. Maybe they were planning on hiking Kilimanjaro later. That idea also made me vaguely depressed. For some reason, I desperately didn’t want to become that kind of person, but I’m not even sure I could have defined “that kind of person”. I just knew that I didn’t want to be in my mid-50s wearing REI gear and taking photos of magpies while on an East African “adventure”. Basically I didn’t want to become the kind of person who would put quotations around the word “adventure” and say it with a winning gleam in my eye.

Luckily, we were young and rugged. Granted, we were camping on the lawn of a hotel but damn it we would have camped somewhere else if anyone had told us. Our good buddy Joseph conveniently forgot to tell us about the swimming and shower facilities that would be available to us, so we just tried to pretend that they weren't there. Sure, it might have been cool to camp in a naturally historic crater, but a manicured lawn was fine too. We were young and we would make our own adventure.

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