Africa is the land of creatures.
Our house is usually occupied by a variety of lizards whose special talent seems to be that they can deposit ten times their body weight in lizard poop into the crevices of our furniture on a nightly basis. There are also territorial spiders, called “wall spiders” (because, well they hang out on the walls) that are no more dangerous than a daddy longlegs (and no better named, either). They tend to simply look like a brown spot on the wall that scurries away into a dark corner if you come too close. Despite their being harmless though, I tend not to really care for any of these. I know that they are part of God’s creation but I suspect only in the way that a messy kitchen is part of a chef’s creation. Its simply an unavoidable part of the process.
And of course, there are the bigger creatures. There are plenty of elephants to be seen in Zambia if one goes to the right places. And last night on the way home from dinner we passed a couple of hippos grazing by the side of the road and it occurred to me when I saw them that I was barely impressed anymore.
And, to be sure, there are the human creatures.
Christmas morning I drove our night guard home and after dropping him off at his house, I started to make my way back home when just after crossing a one lane bridge an oncoming car full of drunks (it was 7AM) suddenly sped up and blocked me from exiting the bridge, refusing to back up. One guy got out and starting waving his arms and shouting, a sure sign that he was ready to take on me and my car all by himself.
Now I was driving a 4x4 with a diesel engine and a solid bull bar on the front, and this guy was in a beat up, old, Toyota Corolla that looked as weathered as the guy behind the wheel. For a moment, I contemplated just pushing the would be gladiators into the ditch with my larger and more powerful car, and heading home. But common sense (or something like it) got the better of me and I put my Landcruiser in reverse, backed up all the way across the bridge and let them pass. They were delighted in their victory, and as they drove past me they waved their fists and pointed to the stop sign just before the bridge as proof of their being in the right. Never mind that I had completely crossed the bridge before they ever got there.
The whole thing got my heart rate going and jolted me out of the half–sleep that I tend to stay in until my third cup of coffee. And as I drove away I was thankful that it hadn’t turned out worse, knowing well that it could have. But there was more to contemplate that morning than just my narrow escape.
There was also the nagging reality of my having somehow thought myself better than them.
The thing is, I didn’t want to back up. What I really wanted to do was drive them headlong into the ditch (as I mentioned) and gloat over my vehicular superiority (of which, by the way, I can take zero credit for) and over their drunken rediculousness. I wanted to put these guys in their place (which simply proves that their rightful place and mine are pretty much the same). I suppose part of it is due to the fact that most Zambians are the most gracious, kind and loving people you could ever meet. Until they get drunk and then they become much like any other drunk in any other country of the world: Obnoxious, overconfident and with far more swagger than is fitting mortal human beings.
I suspect the kindness of most Zambians, the abundant graciousness with which they treat us most of the time can lead you to believe that you deserve to be treated that way all the time. We would never admit it, but being called “bwana” (which is a swahili word meaning basically “boss” or “big man”) sort of grows on you, sometimes subconsciously and sometimes quite consciously.
And as I think about Christmas morning, and my little incident at the bridge, I am reminded again that Africa is indeed a land of creatures.
And that sometimes, the creature is me.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25).