The Kenya Serengeti hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world that is a smorgasbord for the king of beasts. Tonight I am on the menu. The high diversity of animals relates to the diverse habitats that our 8-person safari truck has bumped about for a week ranging from grassy plains where we see hundreds of migrating zebras, thousands of antelope and tens of thousands wildebeests. Dozens of 12´ crocodiles and hulking Cape buffalo battle in shrinking puddles until the last drops. An aardvark parades as big as a Volkswagen and elephant tusks jut two-stories over the truck. Herds of wide-eyed ostriches bob heads as the English ladies break upper brows to the crush and scream of ´I got you bast…!´ in opening the meat cleaver wings of Tsetse flies on their fair skins before the clouds put them to sleep. We run into a crash of four rhinoceros who are as blind as Magoos but with strong noses for French perfume chase the girls and me to musical trees where I gallantly am the last one pushing them up on the hinnies to the lowest limb to hang like fruit. One midnight the Dutch lasses shriek ´Bo!´ on hearing Chomp at the foot of their tent, and I fling open my door to the 5´ wide smile of a grazing hippopotamus. We follow a pride of lions taking down wildebeest in a bloody lunch, and none of the others have the intellect and curiosity of the king of beasts to study our truck windows trying to figure out how to get in. This evening the unfed lions tail the fat tired, high sprung Mercedes Fire truck converted to safari vehicle up a stonyhill to an open camp above the Serengeti.
It seems crazy to camp in Wild Kingdom without a shotgun, and yet we clients dutifully set the little pup tents in a neat row, mine a single as the only male. Baboons strut about as if owning the place and I open the outhouse in a malaria fit to vomit and bats flit out as a 160lb spotted Hyena laughs, ´Excuse me!´ before stepping out.
The night creatures are a worry and the malaria more so as I stagger to the tent, half zip the door and fall recumbent on the blanket. Catalepsy sets in with a muscular rigidity, fixity of posture and paralysis while remaining alert. In vet school a pharmacology instructor gave a mouse a cataleptic drug, stood him on hind legs, stuck a cigarette in his mouth and it smoked without moving as I cried.
I hear them padding and sniffing at the tent flat. Lions in Camp! A male likely longer than the 7´ pup tent rubs the canvas and roars like a freight train. Paralyzed, it is the first time in my life to faint.
If parallel universes exist, I fall into one and awaken the next morning when the guide tugs my toe and yells to rise and shine or miss the truck. Then he eyes the waxen hands, feels the fevered brow and shouts, ´Malaria!´ ordering the gaggle to dismantle the tent and heap me on the safari truck floor. It rocks a half-day to a Red Cross on a white house on a green riverbank and the women deposit me in the sole hospital bed before leaving down the track.
The graying nurse declares cerebral malaria, and adds that though out of quinine tomorrow a boat connects to a road with Nairobi bound vehicles. Overnight a leaden headache and dry heaves break blood vessels in my eyes until the following midday I squint into the sun and am piled on the boat deck. A few hours later on docking the near corpse in my clothes is loaded onto the floor of a taxi and rushed to the Nairobi General Hospital where I vaguely recall a Caucasian tropical medicine specialist diagnosescerebral malaria and holds out a tiny white tablet saying, ´You may take this and probably live, or not and surely die.´ I nod, and after several attempts a nurse forces the pill past vomit and rubs it down my throat.
One of the greatest instant reliefs in medicine is quinine, so the next morning I feel stable, swallow another pill, and in the afternoon feel good, and by evening just want to flee the attendants´ hourly pulse probes, blood pressure cuffs, and pricks in my veins. The nurses and assistants think this is necessary for recovery but the doctors and administration know it is to cover the hospital liabilities.
In the wee hours, unable to rest, I rise and tiptoe past the other patients to the clothes chest, dress, out the room and slither a darkened hall to the cashier at the front door. I don a bright face, introduce myself as a visiting medical philanthropist and hand the sleepy clerk a $100 bill. Turning on a question mark, I escape into a quiet street to a hostel to self-treat with quinine, and after the eight count get up for the next round.