For the first time in 6 years I didn’t hate today- this day that I used to black out from my calendar, wanting to forever deny its existence. It was the first time in as long that I didn’t even think about what today was and how it altered my life. And while my peers were marrying and procreating, I was in the wilderness barely holding it together. Six years ago today, I was in an industrial parking lot screaming and exiting my body in shock- begging, pleading and repeatedly telephoning my little sister and telling her to call me back.
I haven’t worked on this day ever since. I laid flowers on the spot where she died on the first anniversary. On the second, I drove to the mountains and took photos of a frozen river. The next, I visited a friend in Bozeman. I usually go hide in the mountains which requires me to drive past the spot where I learned of her death – that awful parking lot. On every other day of the year, I keep my eyes straight ahead and force myself not to look. On this day, I stare. And for added catharsis, I play Dido (which happens to be the last CD I gave her for Christmas). I generally sob and curse god and with the exception of when I went to Bozeman, I don’t talk to anyone.
The Lion Park
Today was completely different. Today, I went to a Lion Park and pet lion cubs and fed giraffes. Seeing these beautiful animals close up was so amazing. The cubs were in separate pens in groups, I’m assuming by age. We were able to enter one pen and pet the cubs in their den. We were told to only pet their tummies and backs- do NOT touch their tails and faces. When we weren’t watched by the employees, we pet their faces and tails and the cubs swatted and chomped at us like kittens. Kittens with large teeth and claws. We jumped back and hit our heads on the top of the den. “Wow! They’re feisty!” we said, as the employees eyed us and told us it was time to leave and allow the next group in.
We went to the giraffes next and I asked Lauren to take my photo in front of a giraffe. While she fumbled around with my camera, the giraffe leaned over my shoulder. I jumped in surprise. The giraffe took a long sniff, exhaled, stuck his tongue out and went for my face. I scrunched my eyes shut and leaned away squealing and laughing. The rough purple tongue made contact and he licked the entire side of my face and Lauren didn’t figure out my camera in time. We also fed the giraffes and it was pretty cool having the tongue wrap around my hand and snatch the pellets while I pet their snouts.
After Cub World, we drove around the zoo-like game park. We drove into the lion pens and saw the lions close up. I laugh at how nervous I was- afraid to roll the windows down for better pictures, when at Pilanesburg National Park I leaned out of the jeep for better pictures (they’re lazy in the afternoon, I could probably curl up next to one and use it as a pillow and it would never wake up-not that I’d want to test that). The pens were a few acres of land, so it was like being on a miniature-Safari drive. We also saw a truck full of dead chickens feeding hyenas. It was both disgusting and fascinating.
After the Lion Park, one of Regan’s friends, Richard, took us to visit two of his employees in a local township called Daveyton. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Regan did not want to go into the township without a man taking us. I’ve been in barrios in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and if this was anything like that, I wanted to hide my hair and not look “flashy.” Before we left, I changed into the plainest, most unflattering clothes I had, threw my big hair into a hat, and put an empty card in my camera (just in case it was snatched). I also carried a copy of my passport and insurance card, but left everything else behind. These precautions were unnecessary with the exception of having Richard drive us around- primarily because he knew where the hell he was going.
Daveyton is huge. When you approach it there are acres and acres of tiny brick buildings. These are running-water toilets that the government built to help prevent disease and the shacks and shanties will eventually spring up around them.
The township was very disorganized. There were dirt roads running every which way and there were house numbers- but there were no street names and the houses weren’t necessarily numbered in order. We first visited the poorest section of Daveyton to meet Steven. Steven lived in a shack that had two bedrooms and one kitchen. Since the space was so small, stuff was stacked everywhere on the floor and shelves. There were dirt floors and Steven was burning something causing a yellow smoke. Steven and his wife, Leti, were very gracious. I took photos with Steven, his girlfriend, Rachel, and her daughter, Carrie Anne.
We then drove to Thomas’ house. On the way, we took photos of children. Regan asked permission because I felt awkward stopping and taking photos of random strangers- like I was invading their privacy and treating them like circus freaks rather than human beings. In the wealthier middle-income section, people grew more and more suspicious. We stopped in front of a group at a vegetable stand. Richard asked to take their photo.
“For what?” the man demanded.
“For the newspaper,” Richard responded.
“All riiiiiiiiiiiiiight” he said.
Then we turned a corner and passed by the town center. The crowd was thick and they stared at us. They didn’t move out of our way, forcing us to inch along. Richard rolled our windows up and told me to mind my camera. I secured it around my wrist, just in case.
Though Thomas lived in the “wealthier” section, he still lived in a shack. His was one room. He told me he didn’t need anything bigger because he was a bachelor. The only difference in the location that I could tell was that it was closer to the permanent brick homes and that the streets were better organized. I didn’t take photos of the inside of anyone’s home because again, I felt rude doing it. Who was I, anyway?
That night, we had dinner with friends and it was only when I got home and opened my travel journal that I remembered what day it was. I remembered yesterday, but not today. I smiled and told my sister I loved her and missed her.