The following is the running diary of our Christmas in Africa. It is (by far) the longest thing we have ever posted. Generally, the running diary is used to illuminate a common experience with humorous anecdotes and observations. Since you had nothing to do with this event, this may fail entirely. We'll just have to wait and see. Anyway, the day began early for church, after which we accompanied Beauty and her family on their annual Christmas Day Zoo trip. Settle in, get some coffee, and get reading - or just wait for us to post something decidedly shorter. Enjoy.
5:23am The phone begins to buzz and pulse and whirr and chrip. Apparently, I have been snoozing for awhile. I don’t know quite how the snooze works on the phone alarm. Sometimes, the buzzing and chirping returns after only a minute or two, while in other instances it never returns. I’m blaming the phone, the alarm clock. Just like you would.
Oh, the alarm clock. Is there a more maligned device on planet earth? I have never met the person who loves alarm clocks. No one ever calls to tell their friends about their great new alarm clock. Companies aren’t pouring dollars into alarm clock research. And alarm clocks all over the world are being slammed, cursed, and thrown against the wall as we speak.
Pixar (the people behind Finding Nemo and Toy Story) ought to do a movie on the life of an alarm clock. That is the only way people will ever have any sympathy for those hated instruments of vile torment.
All of this reminds me...we saw “Bee Movie” a couple of weeks back. This was the animated movie written by, directed by, and starring Jerry Seinfeld. He was the voice of the loveable honey bee, Barry Bee Benson. And, let me tell you something. I find myself having sympathy for bees. They land on my soda and I declare to the world that “This bee is only trying to make honey!! Honey that you and I selfishly steal and consume!!”
5:48am I realize that I cannot stop thinking about Dwight Schrute and bear attacks. Mainly Dwight Schrute, though...
(Michael Scott: What is the most inspiring thing I ever said to you?
Dwight Schrute: 'Don't be an idiot.' Changed my life. Whenever I'm about to do something, I think, 'would an idiot do that?' And if they would, I do not do that thing.)
6:20am We collect Tiffani and her dad from their hotel and head to church.
6:34am We arrive at church to begin setting up for the Christmas service. I generally set up the sound while Stef and the gang begin to run-through songs. Tiff plays guitar on Christmas songs (don’t know how I got out of that one) so once sound is set up I can relax.
7:47am Thirteen minutes until the start of the service....Did you ever see Grizzly Man? Has there been a more tragic figure than Timothy Treadwell? A more confused individual? I don’t know. What I do know is that if you haven’t seen Grizzly Man...
8:08am While Stef and the group sing O Holy Night, Aria tugs on my finger and gives me the look that every parent knows: Her eyes scream out “Please hold me.” I pick her up and she immediately puts her head onto my shoulder, her body becoming completely limp. She is resting, comfortable in my arms. Stef belts out “...fall on your knees.” Her voice, this child, this day, this place...it is a magical moment.
8:52am My cousin Gregory responds to the altar call. Well, it isn’t the real Gregory, but it is the 2nd guy I have seen in my life that may or may not have been sharing DNA with Greg. The other guy went to UT when I did and was the most impassioned, rabid football fan I ever saw. He was the kind of fan that makes you uncomfortable because he is cheering so hard. He would cause a great deal of introspection actually, as his absurd behavior (“Come on!! Cheer, people!! This is it!! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!) would call into question what any of us are actually doing yelling for oversized men in tight pants as they attempt to advance a ball made from pig flesh into a demarcated area that is painted much like the face of Bizarro-Gregory.
10:19am After waiting for a vehicle to return for us, we begin our trek to the zoo, stopping first for snacks at Woolworths. For the record, we are rolling with Sweet Chili Potato Chips, raspberries, blackberries, litchis, and bottled water. We also bought peanut-butter and jam and a few loaves of bread. Now you know.
10:23am “We” (on our way to the zoo) includes me, Stef, Tiffani, Tiff’s Dad, Mom and Sister, Beauty and her kids, Abey, Fraser, and Aria.
10:45am Just before heading out, it is made clear that Aria needs to use the bathroom. We stop by the Mission House.
10:55am Arrive at zoo!! There aren’t a ton of cars here, causing me to question just how popular of an activity we are about to partake in. Did you know that you are not supposed to end sentences with prepositions? Like, look at my last sentence, ending in “in”. That’s improper.
11:23am We enter the zoo. It looks like an amalgamation of the Kiddie Park and a real zoo, upon first glance. That is only because they decided to put all of the children’s rides directly in front of the entrance gates. You know the old miniature-school-bus-on-the-tracks ride? It’s here, along with the rest of 1962 Americana. Weird.
11:31am First stop in the zoo is with the monkeys. The kids love the monkeys. We see chimps and orangutans first. Clever enough. The way that they use their hands makes me uncomfortable. The way that one adult chimp is clawing at the glass between him and me makes me more uncomfortable. He is pounding at it, obviously trying to reach beyond it. Mercifully, we move on.
11:43am We arrive at the silver-back gorilla enclosure. Beauty informs me that “Coco is lazy”, which immediately lowers any expectations I have for this area.
11:47am We resort to hanging over the wall and looking 20 feet down upon Coco, who is obviously bored out of his mind. He probably doesn’t like being called Coco either, as it is decidedly feminine.
11:49am I begin to feel uncomfortable staring at Coco, as he looks up at us and grunts, before curling up in the fetal position and laying his head onto the concrete floor that is somehow supposed to mimic his natural environment. This gorilla is easily twice the size of me, which gets me thinking that his brain has to be pretty big, too. His hands and feet are not unlike mine. And his actions are exactly what mine would be if I were imprisoned in the way he was. He looks like he’s given up. He should be out cracking heads and eating bananas. Instead...
11:52am I shake off this weird feeling and move on. I love the zoo. There are, however, some animals that I think know that they are trapped. These animals play on my conscience. Where is the snake house? That one always makes me feel better.
12:23pm I pretty much give up on the idea that I will make a children’s book out of the day. I intended to take photos of Aria enjoying the zoo and then turn the whole thing into a children’s book on Shutterfly. She does not want any part of this experiment. Are Soren and Sloane available for the same purpose in March?
12:46pm The turtle enclosure. You would think that nothing interesting can happen at the turtle enclosure. Giant, slow, shelled animals that eat grass... What could possibly draw a crowd to the turtles? I got an idea. What if one turtle decided to mount another turtle and force a “birds and bees” discussion on dozens of unsuspecting parents? Well, it is happening. Oh, is it happening. Slowly, mind you, but there is love in the air at the turtle enclosure.
1:00pm We are still at the zoo. Stef and I give each other the look that we normally give each other when we have had enough. Maybe it was the early wake-up (our third straight) or maybe it is all of the walking in the African summer sun, but we are fading fast. The Johannesburg Zoo is much bigger than the San Antonio Zoo. Much bigger. And it is hilly. And everything is spread out. Apparently, we are making our way to the lions.
1:09pm The giraffes are pretty lame. In the wild, they are majestic creatures foraging gracefully. In the zoo, not so much. Beauty seems to love the Johannesburg giraffes, though, mainly because of their 2-foot long, dangling black tongues. She can’t stop laughing.
1:17pm Passing the zebra enclosure (on the way to the lions, I am assured) a female zebra starts charging at the fence, where zoo visitors are walking. We realize that she is protecting a baby zebra behind her. Naturally, I begin trying to look threatening and she charges harder and harder. Remember, there is only a chain-link fence between us. Am I the same guy who was fighting back tears over Coco? Do zebras have feelings? I don’t know anymore. I am delirious.
(Side note: A tiger escaped at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas and killed one guy before maiming his friends. Now, even if the zebra had escaped, I don’t think a funeral would have been in order, but it does give me a little to think about. Animals revolting...? I am definitely delirious.)
1:40pm Lions. Laying on rocks.
2:07pm We can see a polar bear head. That’s all he’ll show us. Let down. I bet Grizzly Man could goad him out of the hole. Then again, polar bears and African summer probably isn’t what nature intended, so we’re lucky to get his head I guess.
2:14pm Cheetahs!! Cheetahs are my favorite animals. Pretty much always have been. Faster, more precise, and smaller than the other “big cats”, cheetahs are the best. This one is laying in the tall grass. Why do zoos have tall grass? Does that help me see the animal? I watch him laying there for about 10 minutes before I give up an look for a place to refill our water bottle. I am opening the tap to fill the bottle when Stef shouts, “Kyle, he’s moving – he’s walking – hurry, he’s beautiful – hurry – wait – oh, nevermind, he laid back down.”
Yep. Some guys have all the luck.
2:25pm Stef gets licked by a deer.
2:26pm We arrive at the seal enclosure just before feeding time. There has been talk of this all day. Getting over all of my questions about the water that the seals are kept in and the size of their enclosure, I begin preparing for the feeding.
2:30pm The feeding begins. And the seals swim and eat fish. Somehow, I expected more. What? I don’t know. But couldn’t the seals investigate a crime or slide around with people in wetsuits for awhile? IS it too much to ask that all seals perform just like the ones at Sea World? Aria enjoys it anyway.
Sea World is another interesting place, isn’t it? I mean, dolphins are pretty scary creatures. At least at Sea World they let them jump and flip and show off a little bit. It has to fight the boredom better than laying next to the same rope swing every day for 15 years. Who knows how smart dolphins are, anyway? I have to think that they are at least as smart as the smartest monkeys/apes. Who would win in a fight between a gorilla and a dolphin, all things being equal? Tough call.
I am reminded of a memorable episode of The Simpsons where dolphins attacked and took over Springfield. It isn’t that far-fetched people. Let’s move on.
2:51pm After the forgettable seal-feeding, Stef and I head out to the car to make peanut-butter and jam sandwiches for everyone for Christmas lunch. Enjoy your Honeybaked hams, people. We’re having peanut butter.
I once worked at HoneyBaked Ham over Christmas. That was ridiculous. Nothing like using a blowtorch to crystallize some sugar on the outside of a run-of the-mill ham only to charge three times what HEB charges. We all should have been arrested.
3:12pm Just realized that the only bear I saw was the polar bear, and even then I just saw the head. I don’t know how I messed that one up.
3:49pm Everyone finally piles back into the van and we begin the short trip home. We drop off Beauty and the kids and head towards the Mission House.
4:46pm At the Mission House. Stef and I begin to discuss our dinner options, decide to go on a fact-finding mission and return to the Mission House with only one option to place before the group.
5:17pm We arrive at Nando’s for Christmas dinner. Nando’s is like the South African version of El Pollo Loco. It is also the only place that is open. I have a quarter chicken, fries, and a Coke. Stef has the same.
6:08pm Utterly exhausted we drop off the Tyler family at their hotel.
7:17pm We find our way into bed, relaxing, reading, and recounting the day. We saw 1/8th of a bear, some turtle-action, and some great kids have a fantastic day at the zoo. We ate peanut butter and jam and then El Pollo Loco. We enjoyed it more than we’re letting on.
This was definitely not the Christmas from our childhood. And I guess it wasn’t meant to be a storybook Christmas, either. It was, however, a Christmas that we will never (ever) forget.