Sunday, 14 September 2008

In another life

In another life, so my pet corgi informs me, this is a picture of him with his assistant Rob.
This image has honestly not been photo shopped. That really is a welsh mountain lion & the person behind is actually a real ghost on a holiday of a lifetime!
At 3 o'clock this Monday morning a lovely group of wildlife artist friends of mine are checking in for a flight to Tanzania. They will be seeing Kilimanjaro amongst other incredible inspirational sights both fury, feathered & fauna. This is a new destination for most of them. I am so pleased for them all. They are also stopping in lodges for the first time. A bit more comfort as the bones grow a bit older. We used to always camp out in the wilds on our previous trips to Africa. Camping proved quite a challenge for some one like me. Sharing a small tent, showers etc without the changes in my body being detected by my friends before I disclosed my condition to them, was really tricky. Baggy clothes & a safari jacket were a constant requirement even on blazing hot days. At least any lion with any sense of good taste would refuse such a badly packaged free lunch. On Wednesday a smaller group of roughy toughy Botswana buddies fly out to the amazing wilderness of Botswana, camping far from civilisation. Not a car nor a mallard in sight & certainly no mobile phones!
I am so pleased for them all to be having such a fantastic adventure. I have no regrets or envy at not being able to join them. It is a wonderful experience & a real privilege to visit such a beautiful land. I was told "once you go to Africa, it gets into your blood & you just have to return" . For me & many of my friends that has proved to be so true. I will be with my friends in spirit this year. I have been so very very lucky to travel to Botswana three times , 2002, 2004 & 2005 all trips of a lifetime, with such delightful company. You become life long friends to many of the people you share such a life enriching experience with.
The photo is from the African encounter/rehabilitation/reintroduction into the wild programme at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe in 2005. There were 250,000 African lions in the wild now there are only 20,000 & they are regarded as vulnerable. The reason for the reduction is man ,human habitation which drastically reduces their habitat, hunting, poaching & disease such as anthrax or Bovine TB. This lioness is only a year & a half old & was one of a pair we were so fortunate to walk with on a very hot day only hours after arriving in the country. You are given a lot of safety instructions before you set off. You must not stare at them or approach them with eye contact. Running is not a good idea. That's why they called it walking with lions. By now she should have been integrated back into the wilds & you certainly would not be able to walk with her now if she has survived. The ethics of the need for such a programme is open to debate but their principles seemed genuine. The need for a pure bred gene pool of African lions in the event of their numbers decreasing still further.
It is not just the wildlife of Africa that is endangered. The people we met in Zimbabwe were extremely friendly, polite & helpful. The political situation was just on the verge of changing dramatically a few months after we left. It is heartbreaking to see the scenes on the news of this once great country, the "bread basket of Africa" is no more. You cannot help but think, would the rest of the world have stood back & let so many people be killed if Oil was involved?
One of the new artists to join our art society is Zimbabwean. She & most of her family have tragically had to leave their home land. How sad it is that they have had to leave such a once beautiful country for fear of losing their lives. They have lost everything but they are some of the lucky ones, they have at least escaped torture & still have their lives. I cannot begin to imagine how the poor love has coped. Her brother is still out there trying to look after what is left of their farm.
I am so grateful for my new life & could never go back to my previous existence.
I hope & pray that one day the dear lady I met can return with her family to the far away land of her birth.
One day we will return. Once visited Africa becomes part of your soul.


Josephine said...

As you know Debbie, someone once said to me as I got into a lift - after disclosing to him my inner identity - "Brave Man". And I said "Thanks" and smiled, and went down in the lift and thought 'Wrong on both counts'.

So you have shown us Rob, and strangely I find myself at one level wanting to say it. I didn't know Rob...and if I had, of course I would probably have had no idea of the woman screaming inside to be let out, to be acknowledged. But, on the face of it, here we have a picture of a nice looking guy with a gentle open face, sitting next to A Lion! A LION! Which is damned brave, whatever the circumstances!

But then I spend time with the picture and bring to mind what that woman we see here, because she is a woman, and I know she is, has been through since this picture was taken (indeed what she had been dealing with for some long time even by then). And I come up with a definition of brave that goes way beyond sitting with lions.

When people say 'You're brave Jo'. I usually shrug and say 'Brave is for when you had a choice'.

Perhaps it's not as simple as that...perhaps brave is also being able to look the terrifying lion inside in the face, and not flinch.

You did that my friend and I'm proud to know you.

Anji said...

Thank you for the visit to Africa. I have net a lioness close to but not in such wonderful surroundings. I taught a little girl whose father's family were caught up in the fighting in the Congo. There was no way for them to know if they were safe, or even alive or not.

It was strange seeing a photo of you before. What a long journey lies between that photo and today.

I hope that you can visit Africa again very soon.

Debbie K said...

Thank you dear Jo & Anji for your kind words.

"Brave" the definition of brave for people like us is something I may blog about separately one day soon. I am one person not schizophrenic yet I regard living as Rob as the courageous part of my history. I kept running & running away from my soul refusing to accept my truth could be true. Pressured by my own insecurities/fears society & family pressures to try to conform. My mental state had started to crumble quite badly by 2005 when this was taken. I had become rather reckless & numb to my feelings. In reality even on a trip of a lifetime I was unable to quieten my gender dysphoria. It roared like a lions call, inside my head. I was the only one who could hear it. If you look into my eyes in this picture they are dead, there is no sparkle. Look behind me & you will see another lion basking in the sun. I was beyond caring for my safety. There were guides around watching our every move but they rightly carry no guns. All they carry are small sticks to distract them. Only last year things went wrong & a tourist got mauled on the same trip. I chose to put myself in this situation. These are real wild animals & if anything went wrong it was me who deserved to die not them.

In such an incredible place, experiencing true wonders of this beautiful world, I felt dead inside, nothing except that dysphoric roar tearing my heart out.

Sharing this macho image with you took courage. It tears me apart to show this facade, this person. Even now I cannot really look at it for more than a second or two. I guess seeing this brings back all the pain. In hindsight the bravest thing I ever did was listen to my heart & stop to face my fears my lions.

I am sure your generosity of spirit helped that poor Congolese child. How do you find it in you to be there for someone in that situation. What words can you say? It takes courage just to try.
You really are an Angel.

lots of love

The Candyfloss Girl said...

I know about the "bravery" thing. I really like the way your rationalise it as "you were brave masquerading as a guy". That makes sense to me. I get a lot of people calling me brave, but of course I am not.
But you ARE strong Debbie. You do have a lot of spirit.
I agree with Jo...."brave is when you have no choice".
You're still being true to your heart Debbie...x

alan said...

I got to visit Kenya for a day when I was in the service, though since I was assigned duty for part of our time there I didn't get to travel as some did.

I think travel like that changes on forever; the things discovered about the world and about oneself. Would that more were able/willing to experience things outside their own narrow scope of life!

What has happened to poor Zimbabwe is a crime on so many levels; you are right in questioning the motives of the rest of the world in allowing it to happen. I am glad your new friend managed to escape...

I am glad you escaped that place where you were ensnared as well, to have the light shine in your eyes again!