Falling Ill in Africa, and Loving It

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Commentator Daniel Pinkwater tells the story of his travels in East Africa in 1967 — and how one night when he was very ill, lizards stared and him and played around. In retrospect, it was his finest night in Africa.


Sometimes, the most grueling circumstances yield the best memories. That was the case for commentator Daniel Pinkwater in East Africa in the year 1967.

DANIEL PINKWATER: I am in a tent at a camp on the Serengeti Plain. This was a place where smart tourists rinsed with ginger ale after brushing their teeth. In those days, meat was delivered uncovered in open trucks, flies buzzing around. So what do I do, old Africa hand that I am? I eat the stew, I laugh at the delicate tenderfoots who munch on crackers and cheese and drink bottled water.

Naturally, I am as sick as can be: cramps, sweating, many trips to the smallest tent. While I lie on my cot, these red-and-blue lizards visit me. They are bright red from their noses to where they would wear their belts, if lizards wore belts; bright blue from midsection to tip of tail; and about the size of a hero sandwich. They come and go freely under the sod cloth of my tent, which is plainly labeled snake-proof, apparently not lizard-proof. They look at me, I look at them, they scamper out, they scamper back in. Animals known as hyraxes are using the roof of my tent as a slide. The hyrax equivalent of saying whee is a blood-curdling scream.

On my third trip to the out-tent, I notice I am sharing it with a reptile. Just that day, I had been looking at a poster showing what snakes in the Serengeti can kill you. Short answer: all of them. Under the circumstances, I decided we can coexist. What choice do I have?

And on my many hurried walks back and forth with my kerosene lantern, I hear a lion coughing. He sounds close. And yet, even while all this was happening, I sort of knew that looking back on it, I was going to remember this as my best night in Africa.

SIEGEL: Daniel Pinkwater lives in New York's Hudson River Valley.

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