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Terrence White/ENG191/Ms.

Smith-Muhammad/Narrative Essay/5-26-08 How Living in Africa Changed My Life

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Between March 1984 and July 1985, I was privileged to live and work in the Republic of South Africa. My purpose for being there was missionary work, and although I did indeed engage in a great deal of that type of labour, I feel that I gained more from my experience of living there in other ways than would be apparent, were I to mention only that one activity. My brief time in South Africa was one of the two most profoundly lifechanging experiences for me in all my life. I hope I can show how and why this was the case. Although in most respects South Africa is just as modern a country as the United States or Europe, with all the industries, factories, gold and diamond mines, suburbs, cities, towns, shopping malls, interstate highways, railways, airports, and other amenities (and headaches) which modern civilized society offers, and although I there met many wonderful and selfless people, who (unasked) helped me in many ways, it was not so much these aspects that proved to be significantly life-changing for me. Rather, it was my several excursions into the wild bushveld (or wilderness) that proved to impact me the most. Africa is arguably one of the most ancient, primitive and starkly beautiful landscapes on earth, and South Africa in particular does indeed have many wilderness parks and game preserves in which to observe much of that natural beautysome of them quite large. Together with two friends, I visited several of the bigger game preserves--including South Africa's famous Kruger National Park, and the privately-owned Timbavati Game Preserve next to it. I will describe these two momentarily. First, I want to mention Mountain Sanctuary Park, which was one of the grandest and most beautiful of the wilderness parks I saw. This place even has a website, at http://www.mountainsanctuary.co.za/ . I would recommend looking into their site, as it contains many beautiful and representative photographs of the place. We were lucky enough to visit Mountain Sanctuary Park on two separate occasions. This park has a lengthy mountain ridge which runs through most of it--part of the vast Magaliesberg mountain range, which stretches on literally for miles and miles. On the side of this mountain there were no trees of any significance, scattered troops of baboons which dined on small citrus-type fruits, and herds of tiny deer-like gazelles, and the mountain ridge was cut by numerous ravines, gorges, and gullies--some of which were quite large and hundreds of meters deep. On both occasions, starting early in the morning, before the sun had become too hot, my friends and I slowly hiked up to the top of the mountain ridge, where the ruins of a fort from the Anglo-Boer War still sat on the edge of a cliff. There had been an important battle during that war not far from here, we were told. Here, the mountain-ridge dropped away to the vast valley below, providing a spectacular view for a distance of many miles. While we were sitting on the top of that mountain-ridge, perched on the ruins of that fort, the wind coming up from the valley below was furious, and, despite the otherwise hot

Terrence White/ENG191/Ms.Smith-Muhammad/Narrative Essay/5-26-08

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day, it kept us considerably cooled off for a good while. It was a refreshing change from the hot, thirsty trek up the mountainside, and one we were loath to leave behind us. Eventually, we slowly clambered back down the mountainside, and at one point came upon one of those many gorges that cut through the ridge. From the top, it looked far too deep to climb down into, but my friend Abe (a native of the place) insisted there was indeed a way down into it. So we followed him, and eventually, we were in fact at the bottom of the ravine. Here, a completely different world existed. The top of the ravine (the side of the mountain) was barren, dry, and wind-swept; here, all was tree-shaded, dripping with small waterfalls and mosses hanging down the sides of the cliffs, every now and then a raging torrent of a small river, or small series of waterfalls, giant tree ferns everywhere growing in the green gloom of the semi-tropical forest canopy, and huge boulders everywhere littering the floor of the canyons. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when those boulders had dislodged themselves from the cliff tops, and come crashing down to the canyon floor, and was glad I was never there to witness the event! This landscape was so wild, primitive, and ancient, and on so unimaginably vast a scale, that I honestly kept expecting to look up and see dinosaurs lumbering past. It was a magical land of gods and giants, and there I was, a solitary pygmy, picking my way like a small ant over the giant boulders and down the cascading waterfalls. I was small enough to be stamped out forever if even one of those boulders had decided to come crashing down again! At one point, while traversing the canyon floor, we came upon a huge boulder, completely blocking our path. It was easily the biggest one we had seen yet, and was almost the size of a small house. There was nothing but smooth cliff-walls on either side of it. It was indeed possible to climb up the near side of the boulder, but once we had done so, we discovered that the only way to proceed past it (or so we thought) was to jump straight down about twenty meters (about 30-40 feet) into a deep, black pool of crystal-clear water! Our friend Abe laughingly told us that this particular pool (and jumping point) was called "Help Help," and we could easily see why! After letting us worry about our predicament for a few minutes, Abe then told us (laughingly, again) that there was, in fact, a way around the dreaded pool and jump. This other way involved tip-toeing on a tiny ledge along the cliff-wall, literally hugging the cliff-wall itself, as one slowly stepped past the boulder and deep pool, one tiny, fearful step at a time (and about 30 feet above the pool). If one of us had sneezed, we probably would have fallen down into the pool below. I assure you, that ledge we were walking along was only about four inches wide, and there was very little in the way of rock edges to grasp, so as to keep from falling backward. It was harrowing. We were never so relieved as when we finally had made it down past the boulder and pool, and were finally able to relax, take our shoes and socks off, and wade into the shallow end of the deep pool. And boy, was that water ever frigid, even in the hot African Summer! I was very glad then that we hadn't attempted the jump into the pool after all.

Terrence White/ENG191/Ms.Smith-Muhammad/Narrative Essay/5-26-08

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I did indeed see a lot of wildlife. But Africa is not quite the place that most Americans expect from watching National Geographic. Wildlife does indeed exist there in great numbers, but it does so only in the larger game preserves, and one often has to travel great distances to see them. Elsewhere in the country are only endless fields, farmland, suburbs, gold and diamond mines, many small towns and occasionally larger cities. Timbavati Game Preserve, which I mentioned earlier, is where, a few years ago, a minor strain of naturally "white" lions (previously only legendary) made their appearance (see the website http://www.responsibletravel.com/Copy/Copy101740.htm), and the Kruger National Park is the largest game preserve in South Africa (and one of the largest in the world). There are several websites mentioning the Kruger National Park. The Kruger National Park is so big that you can literally drive around in it all day long and never see a single sign of human life (other than the dirt track in front of you and behind you). It is about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island together. It was like being trapped in an episode of Discovery Channel, or National Geographic. I saw plenty of gazelle, giraffe, wildebeest, hippos, lions, elephants, zebras, antelope and springbuck, plus baboons, tree monkeys, wild dogs, hyenas, etc. That huge diversity of God's creatures there, plus the deafening silence constantly surrounding us, and the incredible sense of desolate isolation, left me overwhelmed with emotion, and thinking that I had at last found the fabled "Garden of Eden" itself. Such a sense of peace and tranquility exists out there! I honestly did not want to return to the States--to my own home, and family! What sort of experience is it that can produce an effect like that? That sensation of utter and profound isolation is what so significantly changed my life. I was only there in that game park for one day, but that one day, and the raw experiences it contained, was sufficient to forever alter the course of my life and my thinking. You who have always lived in a house, in a city or suburb, and have never spent more than an hour or two literally a hundred miles from the nearest other human beings (or even sign of human life), have no idea how overwhelming it can be, to experience isolation like that. Persons shipwrecked on a desert island, like Robinson Crusoe, lonely explorers in the vast Sahara, or perhaps scientists in Antarctica, or oil-drillers in Siberia, will have had such an experience; but not many people normally have experiences like that. This is why, when they do occur, they are life-changing experiences. I grasp at words, trying to describe what is was like for me, standing there that day on the hot, dusty African plain, with nothing for literally a hundred miles around, except my two friends, one automobile, one dry, dusty dirt road, and endless miles of grass, bushes, scattered thorn-trees, occasional wild animals, and endless blue sky and puffy white clouds. I struggle, and cannot seem to find the right words to convey just how awesome an experience it was, and how reverently and profoundly moved by it I was. Such overwhelming peace, and tranquility! One could literally sit there all day long, and never

Terrence White/ENG191/Ms.Smith-Muhammad/Narrative Essay/5-26-08

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hear another sound besides the breeze occasionally rustling through the tall grasses! It is absolutely impossible to imagine what this actually feels like, if one has never experienced it. I felt like we were literally the only people alive and walking on the entire planetso far away did all other life seem. This gives one a completely new perspective on life, believe me! I suppose a person who is easily bored would probably be driven to the edge of insanity by isolation like that. I could easily envision a possibility like that. But not for me: it was a balm of Gilead to my soul. And I have always wanted to go back there and experience it just one more time. Needless to say, after having had such a profound experience as that, and coming back to everyday civilization, even seeing New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and just about every other sight and experience that America has to offer, I still have felt somewhat cheatedbecause I was always conscious that something greater still lay elsewhere, and I knew that I had been there, and experienced it firsthand. I suppose the astronauts who walked on the moon must have felt similarly, after they had returned to their usual, routine lives in suburbia, commuting to their jobs every morning, and I do not wonder when I recall that several of them are said to have experienced severe psychological problems of readjustment upon their return. Only those who have had similarly profound, life-altering experiences can know what I mean here. Had I the time, and my listeners the patience, I think I could probably write a whole book about what I saw and experienced there. Hopefully, this brief essay will suffice for the moment.

Photo taken during our visit to the Kruger National Park, in the Spring of 1985. Shown here is a herd of Impala. We had to be very quiet, so as not to frighten them.

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