Adventures and Ordeals

It’s a funny thing to be stuck. You keep doing what you always do – talking, laughing, breathing. And yet you know that something is obstructing you, keeping you put. And when you suddenly decide to accept that you’re stuck, you begin to look around and realize what you’re actually stuck in.

This is the story of 17 students, one professor, and one bus driver, “stuck” in the great expanses of the African savannah. We had just spent the day driving through Etosha National Park. This 22,270 square kilometer park in northwestern Namibia is home to 114 animal and 340 bird species, and encircles a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. Most of the group had been particularly looking forward to this visit, and many of the sights, not to mention the wildlife we witnessed were the most beautiful of our entire trip.

And yet it was at that moment when we were just 15 minutes away from the park exit and our tire popped, that something different happened. By that point, most of us were (or at least I was) hungry, tired of spending the day on the bus, and anxious to get home, so the news that our tire had popped was not met with great delight. Despite being advised to remain in the bus, as the clock ticked on, several of us went out to get some fresh air. We got off and continued our follies – laughing, talking, taking pictures, writing S.O.S. in the sand (jokingly of course).

But after a bit, it hit me that we were actually stuck – even if temporarily so – in one of the most magical places I’ve ever been to. Even though we were meant to have left the park before sunset, we were lucky enough to have had a reason to stay and see the park’s transformation from day to night.

Far off into the distance I watched the sun, a large ball of fire slowly lowering itself down on the horizon until it kissed the grassland plains. And then, after what seemed like just a few seconds, it was swallowed up and gone. I walked around myself in a circle, mesmerized by the kaleidoscope skies changing from orange, to red, to yellow, to blue, to purple, and finally to pitch black.

Even after leaving Namibia, this is the moment that stays with me most vividly. Something that I feel I learned from Namibian culture was that nothing is really a big deal. Being punctual is unheard of, and things going wrong is actually the name of the game. But throughout our two-week road trip across the country, we stopped being frustrated with logistical setbacks and started to embrace, even take advantage of them, always saying that “the only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is your attitude.” That moment in Etosha park doesn’t just remind me of the country’s beauty and magic, but of the idea of embracing the unexpected, the state of being stuck in a place that’s not so bad after all.

(note: couldn’t upload pictures because the website said storage quota has all been used.)