Hippos and Snakes and Crocs, Oh My!

During our time in Zambia, Derek and I were privileged to go to Sinazongwe with the CROSS team for the purpose of doing a 3-day intensive teaching of the CROSS curriculum to 22 pastors-in-training. Sinazongwe is about 5-6 hours southwest of Lusaka and sits right on Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake. It is really a beautiful place…but, oh, how looks can be deceiving.

After a comfy, cozy (emphasis on cozy) car ride down there, we hopped out at the mission base, where we all would be staying. A perfect breeze from the lake was blowing in on our faces, and the sun was beginning to go down. The sound of crickets and birds made the mood perfect. Aaaahhhhh, life in Africa – I love it.

That was when Karin, our hostess, said that the married couple could stay in the tent. That meant us. Okay, sure, no problem! We’re adventurous (somewhat) and love to camp (for the most part). We had never stayed in a tent in Africa before, so we knew we were in for a treat.

At dinner, Karin mentioned that this time of year is perfect for “croc watching.” Crocs?! The water is really still in the evening, and the rocks on land are still warm from the sun. She said, “It is always a treat to see the crocs and hippos.” Hippos?! Oh yes – if anyone knows anything about Africa, virtually every river and body of water is infested with crocs and hippos.

We took great comfort when we noticed that our tent was conveniently pitched about 40 feet from the water’s edge. By the way, did I mention that more people die in Africa from hippo attacks than from any other animal?

Well, we were pretty tired from the long and bumpy (emphasis on bumpy) journey, so we decided to hit the hay early. As we dove (literally) into our tent so as to avoid letting mosquitoes or other predators in, we realized anew how flimsy our tent felt compared to the idea of a 3-4,000 pound hippo. With that in mind, we said goodnight to each other, mindful that it might be our last night alive.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep, because my heart was pounding, and my ears were straining to decipher all the sounds around us. Crickets…crickets…insects…crickets…splash, splash, splash. I whispered frantically to Derek, “Did you hear that?!” “Yes…It’s probably just fish splashing around,” whispered his unconvincing reply. That was when I heard a hippo barking or burping or grunting or whatever noise they make. It was unmistakable. Derek still tried to tell me, like a good husband, that it was fish, but I knew better.

I kept reminding myself that we were doing nothing to threaten the wildlife and wished that sleep would take over immediately. Then, Derek decided he needed to get out of the tent and use the bathroom, which I was thrilled about. Yes, the bathroom was away from the lake, but that meant there was more chance for snakes. Thankfully, he made it back safe and sound…only to get up two hours later to repeat the cycle. I was thrilled that time, too.

Well, we made it through the night without getting attacked or eaten, even by a mosquito! God is good!!! Later that day, our hosts mentioned that they had killed two snakes within 20 feet of our tent that day – one of which was a spitting cobra. Needless to say, Derek didn’t leave our tent that night!

After three nights of “camping” in rural Africa, I can honestly say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I even grew to enjoy falling asleep to the almost-deafening nighttime sounds around us and then waking up to some pretty amazing bird songs.

By the way, the only picture actually taken on our trip to Sinazongwe was the top one – the others were taken in safe, controlled situations. 🙂

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