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Losing Control in Africa

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

By Kaye Olsson,

I Start Wondering Columnist

Have you ever done something spontaneous and a little bit crazy simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time? Well, that’s exactly what I did this past summer when, on a whim, I decided to go to Africa after seeing a promotion for a discounted stay at a safari camp in Zambia.

Little did I know that it would require five planes (on three different airlines) and 40+ hours of flight time to get from the western United States to south-central Africa. That was certainly an eye-opener! Then there were the required vaccines, paperwork for entering the country, and baggage restrictions for traveling on small planes.

It was complicated…

The Adventure Begins

Photo by Kaye
Photo by Kaye

When we finally arrived at the tiny Mfuwe airport, a staff member from the safari camp met us just as the sun was going down. We loaded our small duffel bags into the Jeep and took off for the hour-long journey into the African bush of South Luangwa National Park. About 45 minutes into the drive, the Jeep suddenly stopped working and we found ourselves stranded on a dirt road in complete darkness.

Fortunately, the radio on the Jeep was still operational so our driver was able to call for help. While we waited to be rescued, the night was filled with mysterious sounds of nocturnal creatures as millions of stars shone against the massive black sky.

When a huge hippopotamus wandered by, I found myself thinking, “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore!” Indeed, we were in a completely different world with limited infrastructure, unfamiliar terrain, and lots of wild animals. In that moment I realized how completely vulnerable my travel companion and I were, and how little control we had over the situation.

Losing Control

Photo by Kaye
Photo by Kaye

In fact, I discovered we had very little control over anything that entire week. Wake-up calls were at 5 a.m. each morning and the safari drives began immediately after breakfast at 5:45. We would return from the first safari for lunch and a short two-hour break, then head out again for the remainder of the day, arriving back at the camp around 7 p.m. for dinner with a pre-set menu.

As someone who is a planner and used to being “in charge” of my time, this was a significant departure from the norm. But instead of fighting it, I decided to simply embrace the experience and view it as an adventure. Now back home in the States, I realize that many of the lessons learned on this trip could have practical applications to my daily life.

Let Go of Expectations

Photo by Kaye
Photo by Kaye

Once I stopped feeling the need to manage every aspect of the day, my mind relaxed and began to absorb experiences as they happened. I noticed that a couple of our fellow travelers would have a “wish list” for particular birds or animals they wanted to encounter each day. Inevitably they ended up being disappointed time and time again.

There was absolutely no way to plan ahead or to control which animals (if any) would appear as we drove down the dusty roads. So, I learned that letting go of expectations allowed me to be continually delighted by the surprises that appeared around each corner. It occurred to me that when we retrain our minds to process life as it is, rather than as we think it should be, we actually gain a sense of peace.

Take a Technology Break

If you are like me, technology has become a routine part of life and a deeply ingrained habit. But I quickly discovered that access to a steady wi-fi signal in the remote African bush is not always possible and cellular service was basically nonexistent. It was extremely frustrating at first, but I eventually accepted the situation and allowed myself to become immersed in the safari experience.

Being off the grid meant I could escape constant technology distractions that interrupted my thoughts, allowing me to truly pay attention and fully exist in the present moment. Instead of looking down at my phone, I could soak in the magnificent sunrises during our morning drives as the world around me awakened.

Now a few weeks out from this incredible trip, I have developed a new sense of appreciation for disconnecting. Taking a periodic break from technology at a certain time each day, or perhaps even a full day each week seems like a healthy way to let my brain recharge at home.

Be Mindful of the Small Things

Photo by Kaye
Photo by Kaye

Removing the distractions created by technology or the expectation of being in control can be good for the soul. When we let go, we create space for better things to enter our lives. Without a phone to stare at or the ability to plan my next activity, I realized I was free to observe smaller details and be more mindful of the entire safari experience.

As we spent hours outdoors each day, I began to relax and my senses came alive. I noticed the unusual shapes of the trees, the vibrant colors of the birds, and the lively sounds of the wilderness. There was something Zen about sitting in stillness in the Jeep, watching a leopard and her cubs as they played in the grass. Being mindful allowed me to quietly reflect on the experiences as they were happening.

Experience Gratitude

Photo by Kaye
Photo by Kaye

Traveling to Africa was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I never expected to have. The people we encountered were genuinely warm and welcoming. I was mesmerized by the majestic giraffes and the lumbering elephants. Monkeys and warthogs worked alongside one another digging for grubs. Birds rode on the backs of hippos, nibbling mites out of their ears. They were all trying to survive as the water sources continued to shrink throughout the dry season. There were multiple examples of symbiotic relationships between plants and animals like these, and everything just made sense.

I feel incredibly grateful to have seen such a special place and have tried to carry that sense of gratitude back home with me. I find it helpful to start each morning and end each day by acknowledging the many blessings that present themselves. Small moments such as lingering over a warm cup of coffee and breathing in the quiet air now feel like little treasures.

Travel is so important because it has a way of broadening our perspectives and making us appreciate what we have at home. What a wonderful gift!

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