One day on safari is better than 10 birthdays anywhere else.
Imagine, instead of waking to an alarm clock being greeted by a ‘safari massage’ — the rumbling of bumpy roads untamed, even by the best ATV shock-absorbers. Imagine that instead of splashing cold water on your face in your own bathroom, your face being cleansed by dust from the world’s oldest desert — bursting in through a windowless 4×4. Your hair is groomed without effort, tussled into place by the strong breeze of the savanna. Your person is uniquely in place. You don’t check happy birthday wall posts from your friends on Facebook, but receive happy birthday hugs and high-fives from new friends with whom you have already formed unique bonds, as it happens when traveling far stretches of Earth together. You share a cup of simple black coffee and head out on a game drive. You see elephants, giraffes, antelope and land stretched much farther than any distance you have seen in a very long time.
Then comes second breakfast and second coffee — slices of dense birthday cake passed around on small paper plates. It tastes of orange peel and sugar and is crushed on all sides from slamming into the side of the box in a compartment hidden somewhere inside the rover. It looks a mess but it tastes amazing and you wash it down with instant coffee dressed with strange tasting milk that is served from a collapsible ledge popped out from the side of the vehicle, and that tastes amazing too. And then comes the tedious birthday song that usually embarrasses you, but in this setting, in the middle of nowhere in Africa, you actually sing it too. You are not embarrassed but singing with sincere joy matched by one honest twinkling tear in your eye.
A porcupine quill crosses your path. Called by Namibians a charm of good luck when found in the wild, you pick it up eyeing a spot in the distance where you will run like a child to celebrate your good fortune. The towering dune warms your soles with sand so nimble that it collapses beneath your feet, all the while the breadth of sand holds you in safety on the way down. “This is what walking on the moon must feel like!
You are not greedy, you give back for all of your good fortune — a gift of one sandal — a gift to the dune. You begin to look for it but then the sound of grinding gears captures your attention and you see your friends pushing the Jeep out of the world’s softest sand that its wheels are stuck in. With only one shoe and a wild grin, you run towards the scene and help to push with all of your might and when the Jeep breaks free, you pause for a moment to consider your long-lost sandal… how one day it will be unearthed and how those who discover it will discuss how old it is and what kind of person from what kind of land wore it, and who would leave behind such a sandal?
Then, unexpected guests arrive to the party — rarely seen desert-adapted male lions hiding behind the bush, an elephant giving itself a sand-bath on the horizon, a prehistoric black rhino eating a thicket. It is such a paramount birthday that you feel large, and meanwhile, you are humbled to realize that you are such a small part of Earth and all that lives here.
You ponder this idea over an African sundowner — red wine from Stellenbosch — sitting atop colorful woven blankets beneath the evening star that some call Venus… you shift glances between black Earth and gradient sky of yellow, orange, purple, moon, night, galaxy. And when the sun is completely gone you freeze in the wind on your way back to camp and are shrouded with blankets at the dinner table when you arrive.
Very tired and totally fulfilled from such a day, you are happy to sneak off to sleep at 8:30pm, but someone dear has other plans for you — encouraging one last bit of wine and tea. But they don’t really want wine and tea for you as much as a celebratory song to end the night — as if the desert spa, second breakfast and coffee, good company, game drives, lucky charms, running of the dunes and colorful landscape at sunset weren’t enough.
The song from the locals rings out with native clicks and harmonies that Tchaikovsky never knew. It is a vibrant room as everyone claps and smiles and the songbirds bring you up to dance with them and you grin and bang your hands together too. The others in the room are not having a birthday but are having a very happy day nonetheless, and so, it is everyone’s birthday.
For the first time in your life you celebrate your birthday for just for one day, unlike the typical week or month that you usually dedicate to it. Sleep comes by 11pm, and you are perfectly fulfilled and delighted to be at rest before the day even ends. This year, you don’t need a week or a month or even one full day because this was a birthday better than 10 rolled into one.
Namibia, October 24th, 2013.