Falling Ill in Africa, and Loving It

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.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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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