Africa Vignette 8: Dining with Elephants

Luangwa Park, Zambia

We’re dining at a long table set on the lawn under the stars. The proprietors, Georgina and Denis, lived in the remote northern town of Broome, Australia (population then 9,000), and Georgina is telling improbable stories about people thereabouts who compete in competitions using whips, extinguishing candles and the like. People, says she, like “Jack the Whipper.”

It’s all silly and we are laughing and gabbling on when, from the other end of the table, Denis cuts us off in an urgent voice. “Georgina, Bill, will you please be QUIET. There’s an elephant right THERE.”

And there are seven. One at the edge of the trees, and as she grazes her way onto the lawn, another and another, then another follow. Denis commands that everybody, including a table of Lusaka bankers drinking over at the pavilion, sit perfectly quiet and still.

They say elephants can’t see much but shapes in the dark, but they can see movement. So there the nine of us sit, immobile and transfixed. The bankers flee to a chalet and watch from a window. The elephants eat their way to not ten feet from the table and you have never thought elephants were so big until you’re looking up at them, stuck with your legs under a table, hoping nobody sneezes.

The night crackles alive. Hyenas call and we can’t flee to our room because the elephants have stopped to eat between here and there. Earlier, a hippo took over the road. Abraham observed laconically as we sat waiting, “You have to give a hippo room to maneuver.” Words to live by.

Once we’re home the elephants put on a hard-to-sleep-after show, tearing at the trees behind the patio, even putting the occasional elephant foot on our stairs just an arm’s length away as we cower and watch through the cracked-open door.

•••••

See photos from Zambia in the Zambia Gallery at Earthphotos.com.

Africa Vignettes is a weekly series most Mondays this summer on CS&W.

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