It is the silence that awakes you. It’s the silence that follows the distant grunts of the lioness, or the frightened chatter of baboons in response. It’s the silence when the noises of the night fade, and the day has not yet begun.
As the first glimmers of light appear, the creatures stir into life. The songbirds burst into joyous harmony as the males mark out their turf, and the Hadada Ibis lets out its distinctive screech as it flies overhead. In moments, I know, the children will wake, clamouring for their favourite starts to the day: our five year old daughter her game-drive, and our two year old son his bottle of warm Kenyan tea.
Awake and dressed, Seyia bounds off on a game drive with her ‘baba’ to look for the lioness we heard roar during the night. A week earlier, the big cat had killed a small zebra and feasted on it yards from our small cottage.
Excited by the rarity of viewing a kill so close to home, our Maasai staff had led us to where the lioness had stashed the zebra. With the two children, we stalked through the bushes, wondering if this was altogether a good idea.
Seyia had looked on, fascinated. It wasn’t her first brush with death. When she was just three years old, the kitchen staff at the camp had brought in a goat for slaughter. She petted it and murmured quietly to it, before its throat was slit in front of her. She remained while the meat was butchered and chucked into a stew. Later, she ate it happily enough.
From a distance, I worried that the experience would prove unsettling, but she seemed less emotional about it than her elders. As we peered at the mauled catch, we explained to Seyia that the lioness needed to eat, just like we do, and that was why she had killed the zebra. She nodded her head, and we turned back for the cottage.
This morning, I wave off Seyia, brimming with excitement at the prospect of seeing the lioness, and her father, and put the kettle on the stove to boil. Settling down on our veranda, my son Taru and I watch as our resident troop of baboons make their morning commute along the riverbank.
I can hear the kettle boiling. Leaving Taru to watch the ‘baabooons’, I go to make us some tea. A vervet monkey peeks in through the gap between the wall and the thatched roof, trying to learn where we keep the sugar and our resident fruit bats try to get comfortable upside down on the thatch.
A teacup and bottle of tea in hand, I return to the veranda. The baboons have moved on and Taru is now watching two kingfishers chirping and displaying to each other on a branch above the river. We sit and drank our tea in silence, waiting for our explorers to return.
Samantha du Toit (Russell) is a wildlife conservationist and works for SORALO in the Olkirimatian-Shompole ecosystem in Kenya’s southern part of the Great Rift Valley. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.