an essay by Marilyn Ball
an essay by Marilyn Ball
We were on a mission to find Zero, the King of the Jungle. Our guide and tracker at Shiduli, a private game reserve fringing the Karongwe Game Reserve outside Tzaneen, South Africa, assured us his trail was getting closer and he would soon appear.
I was traveling with my daughter Jessica and her husband Jason, a Chinese South African man from Johannesburg whom she met in Weaverville. His parents and many of his family and friends had traveled to Asheville for their wedding, and now it was our turn to visit them.
After a few days catching up from the long flight, we embarked on our road trip into the bush—the first of our safaris into the African wilderness. The bush was lush from an abundance of rain. The temperature hovered around 90 degrees. Racing along dirt trails no wider than the Land Rover, we encountered a mother rhinoceros and her baby, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, water buffalos, zebras and two female lions no more than a foot away, lying peacefully in the sand along the road.
In the African jungle, there is a natural rhythm to life and a coexistence we sometimes forget in our own lives as we resist change—fearful of what lies ahead, always thinking of the "what if" questions.
On this particular outing, the morning sun rose over the jungle and the trackers were on the scent of the alpha lion, the largest and strongest cat in the jungle, a figure of strength and royalty. High above the gorge separating the mountain ridges we saw him, holding his head high, surveying all. Seeing Zero gave me pause to consider my own magnificent life. I was, after all, in Africa, traveling with my family, my best friends. They accept me for who I am and support me in the decisions I make. Being with them keeps all else in perspective. Jobs may come and go, money may be tight and life may get scary at times, but knowing my family is there for me, loving me unconditionally, makes me really happy.
Jessica, Jason and I had worked together to create our itinerary. It was centered around Johannesburg where most of Jason’s family and friends live, and then off to the jungle and to Cape Town on the coast. Both his parents were born in South Africa after their families emigrated from China during oppressive political times. Today, conditions in South Africa are challenging, so when Jason was asked to help his childhood friend run a lumber import business, Cormark International in Weaverville, he came to America in search of new opportunity.
As we celebrated Chinese New Year in Chinatown, we sent our wish balloons into the night sky. Sky lanterns are an important part of Asian culture, and their release symbolizes letting go of your worries and problems. I wished this happiness could last forever. A hopeful beginning to the Year of the Tiger.
When we said our goodbyes, we promised to return soon. Although we’re a world away, the distance doesn’t seem so great. Although our cultures are different, we are of one tribe, one clan, one network, one family. Whatever you choose to call them, the people you care most about, and who care most about you, are the ones to make time for, have fun with and cherish.