A day before I was due to leave for Lagos, Nigeria, I woke up and did what I always tend to do first; grab my mobile phone, check my notifications and have a look at my roster.
It has happened to me (one too many times for my liking to be honest) that my roster gets changed in the last minute, precisely when I’m thinking about what things I should pack and gearing up for any sight-seeing or activities I was planning to do. On this particular day, I entered my staff number, epin, fingers flying over the pad (I swear I can do this in my sleep) and waited while it loaded. My eyes may have opened wide, I can’t recall. All I know was that I was fully awake at once. For the third time in a little over a month, I was pulled out of a flight I was previously rostered for and thrown into another. This time though, I had no qualms. I was off to Johannesburg.
Katia, my Maltese side-kick had already visited the city and I had oohed and aahed at her photos with the baby lions (probably even drooled over them) and I had less then twenty four hours to make contacts and plan. For a control freak like myself, I thought I was threading on thin ice. I learnt that to go on the tour you’d have to be at least three crew in all (what if I was the only one who wanted to go?), that it was horrible weather in Johannesburg (what if the lion park doesn’t open if it rains?) and that the allowance was really low and that we’d have to dig in our pockets if we wanted to see the they’re-so-fluffy-I-wanna-die lion cubs (what if I won’t be able to withdraw cash?) I honestly exasperate myself. Somehow, I pushed everything to the back of my mind, packed my stuff and left. As always, I ended up telling myself I had fretted over wisps of smoke. Johannesburg turned out to be an amazing layover simply because it was different. Something I knew I would probably have never done if I wasn’t here, wearing this red hat. Another point on the “to be grateful for” list.
South Africa is famous for its delicious meat and wine so it was inevitable that I would get dragged to a restaurant with the rest of the crew as soon as we arrived late in the afternoon. The atmosphere was relaxed as we sat at a round table and ordered steak and wine. It’s always so interesting to hear everyone talk of their past. And as always I was amused at how fate had managed to bring three ex- IT/Chemistry/English teachers from Tunisia, Ukraine and Malta together at one table. In the largest city of South Africa no less. It’s just so… mind-blowingly random but also beautiful at the same time. The next day two other girls and I met with the co-ordinator of the lion park tour, a very friendly ex-crew member who took us there and back. The clouds hung low in the sky but they didn’t look menacing, even though I kept seeing non-existent drops of rain on the car’s windscreen. The park is found well outside the city limits and it’s a sprawling mass of bare acres of land where wild animals can graze and canter, sleep and be admired in all their regal poise. First off, we were invited to see the lion cubs up close. I could dwell on this part forever. I just wished I could fit one in my pocket and take it off with me so I could pat it and stroke it and play with it and roll around with it forever and ever … yes I was in love. One of the naughtiest cubs took hold of my arm and just wouldn’t let go. I still proudly show his tooth marks on the sleeve of my jacket to anyone who would care to see. The amount of photos I took was ludicrous .. it looked like a mini video clip in stop motion as I flicked through the photos on my phone. And that was just the cubs. We went on to feed the giraffes, animals so well into selfies that they mimicked by facial expressions from behind my back. And I swear I’m not being paranoid. The last part was a sort of mini safari where we got into a car and drove slowly around the different areas where we spotted zebras, gazelles, buffalos and of course lions. The white lions were out of this world. They seemed to just blaze, standing out from the landscape like a snowflake in the desert. At one point we got surrounded by a pride of lionesses, literally inches away from the car. They stopped and stared at us through the windows and we all held a collective breath before they moved away. And trust me, locking eyes with a fully grown lion so close you could touch it if you were idiotic enough to roll down the windows was something I will never forget.
Seeing the wild up close was never something I desperately wanted to do. It was one of those things which I was lucky enough to say seemed to just happen to me. One minute I was deciding which swim suit I would take to Lagos. The next I was making contacts, fantasising about cuddling with a cub. This job is unpredictable. Some people find it amusing, others very stressful and others seem to just not care. I generally don’t like surprises. I don’t like being called off something and put unceremoniously into something else. I’ve come to know myself enough to know that I hate not being able to control what happens to me. But this job is teaching me that sometimes we do not always have possession of the reins. Sometimes, someone else drives the carriage and if we’re lucky enough, we could be whisked off into a wonderful little adventure we can write about later. All we have to do is to think positive. And breathe.
Oh, and it never rained, in case you were wondering. Wisps of smoke. Honestly.