A Rhino’s Smile

6:30 am was way too early to get in that damn van. We drove nearly three hours from Cape Town to a rural land quite far from the ship. Of course I can’t remember the name. The ride there was fine. Josh, Deja, and I were pretty tired when we popped in our seats, and definitely weren’t too pleased when three other guests joined the caravan.

I’m not gonna lie—I slept during most of the ride. The parts I remember, faintly, are when we stopped for a sightseeing post on some random cliff, stopped at some sort of convenience friend to get my friend Josh some cigarettes, and when I overhead Deja and Josh talking about some NSFW content in the presence of children. The ride was mostly a blur, but I slept pretty well.

We pulled up at the safari ranch and it was honestly pretty spectacular. I saw zebras and rhinos in the distance. The van driver escorted us out and wished us well with the little English he spoke. After being gestured into the front door, we entered the ranch and were greeted with juice and the bill. I thought that was a little tacky, but a man’s gotta get paid right?

We paid, sipped our orange-ish colored juice, and waited for our affair to start. The “jeep” pulled around and the tour guide, a stale looking old white South African, told us to “get in!” What followed was the ascension of a “diverse” group up the stairs of the tall vehicle (it wasn’t an actual Jeep™ but it was certainly Jeep-like). Really, it was a strange ass mix of folks.

To start, it was myself, Deja, and Josh—three Semester at Sea voyagers. We were joined by two young women who happened to work as crew on another ship docked in South Africa. Along with them was a small family traveling from India, a graduate student from Howard University, and some Europeans from scattered origins.

The Safari began, and it was as magical as could be expected. The Zebras were grazing. The elephants were large and looked like Dumbo. We got too fucking close to the lions. The luscious green grass contrasted with some of the dry terrain, the sun beaming down on the land lined with poo.  The gazelles started looking in my eyes. It was almost like I was Eliza from The Wild Thornberrys—nerdy glasses, braces and all. Truly magical.

Yes, everything was magical until the tour guide started talking about shit other than the animals. He was out of line. At one point, he compared the rhinos to black South Africans because, as he posited, neither the rhinos nor black people in Cape Town had any teeth. I’m no orthodontist, but I could surely observe that the tour guide’s teeth weren’t exactly “CREST clean.” Oh.  And that nice Indian family I mentioned earlier? He intentionally referred to them as Pakistani.

It totally ruined our moods. Directly after the abhorrent comments, I looked at Deja and she looked back at me. We gave each other the look that Black folks are so used to giving when someone says something obviously racist. As one of two other Black travelers in our vehicle, I knew she got it. So, instead of looking at the two giant elephants in front of me bathing themselves to cool down, I had to think about every reason why I shouldn’t start a conflict in a foreign city in a foreign country.

My body is politicized everywhere. In Detroit, in Ohio, and in some random town near west hell in South Africa. It’s in moments like these where I realize that there are certain things I can’t escape and certain pains that can’t be smoothed. It’s in moments like these where I realize the history of racialized violence in the United States is complemented by histories of racial violence across the globe. The beauty of an open graze can be polluted by the disgusting ills that plague our society. No martini at the pool or margarita on the beach can escape it. Not even some orange-colored juice on a ranch maybe thirty feet from piles of horse shit.

But the ride eventually ended, and my friends and I were ready to get the hell out. Granted, we weren’t going to give up the lunch that came with the safari (the one we paid for—no racist formed against my meal shall prosper). So we sat and angrily ate our meals, externally cringing but internally salivating over the warm and juicy meat being served. Fortunately, there were no chickens on the property, that would have been awkward…  Alas, we sucked the rest of the bones and headed to the van. The problematic tour guide was nowhere to be found, but the van was right outside waiting for us. That damn van was right on time.

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