Tag Archives: elephants

An Elephant’s Poop

Here’s the biggest takeaway from the driving tour at the safari park in Murichson Falls National Park:

Elephants eat the seeds in the orange fruits produced by palm trees. The elephants’ digestive tracks do not break down the seeds, so the seeds, fully intact, exit the elephants in their poop. The seeds in their poop grow to form more palm trees. In short, palm trees grow from elephant poop.

Our visit to Murchison Falls is a well-earned break after physically and mentally hard days of filming. A break like this gives time to both recharge and reflect.

Among many other things, we have talked to South Sudanese girls who are refugees studying at an all-girls boarding school in Uganda, interviewed a family fleeing from South Sudan at one of Uganda’s immigration centers that receives refugees as they cross the border, and filmed a large crowd of refugees at a food distribution center in a refugee settlement.

The bus (driven by Sam who should have his own Fast and Furious film because that’s just how great of a driver he is) takes us to all these places: the school, immigration center, and refugee settlements.

Without a working aux chord, the bus rides back to our living facilities give time to think – mixed in with good conversations and card games.

However, my thinking has largely just been the repetition of Father Frans van der Lugt’s 5-word response to suffering:

“Still, the world is good.”

I toss the quote over and over until I think I’ve convinced myself of its truth. At the places we’ve been, it’s really easy to find evidence that points to the contrary. Of which the most heartbreaking is expressionless eyes that have seen far too much of the bad.

But, we have to be willing to consider the possibility that within these landscapes of suffering there is hope for change that leads to something better.

And, as with the elephant’s poop that sprouts a palm tree, something that seems pretty shitty can give rise to something remarkable.

I say this not to romanticize hope at the dismissal of the atrocious conditions in which refugees are made to live. Even an ounce of hope in the face of such widespread hardship is radical.

But, if the world still is good, its goodness has to be reflected in its people. In an interview with Tom Shadyac, Desmond Tutu says what follows about such change that leads to something better:

“God says, ‘you know what, I don’t have anybody else except you.'”

So, it’s up to us.

And, here, I’ve found a sort of fuel in some of the most extraordinary people committed to this goodness in spite of a seemingly hopeless situation. They are exemplars of what it means to be selfless and compassionate.

So, we find ourselves in a safari park, and piles of elephant poop are everywhere.

Hope is knowing that from some of these piles comes palm trees. And that these palm trees will provide shade and respite to what passes underneath so that those that pass feel (even just temporarily) cared for.

Jeepers, We’re on a Safari!

(Written June 19)  Today we are leaving Lira to take some needed relaxation within the boundaries of Murchison National Game Park, the largest national park in Uganda. From where we were in Lira, this massive landscape of a reserve is about a 4 hours drive.

So for four hours I sat on the bumpy thrill ride called the bus staring out into the window trying to take everything in, and I couldn’t help but notice how drastically the landscape changes from when we were still in Lira to where the Game park is located.

Lira is called home by some of the most poor, but yet most generous, people of Uganda.  Families live in huts made of mud and straw, children play with toys we consider trash, and the city landscape is made up of deteriorating metal. Although Lira is not textbook beautiful, it’s beauty lies within its people.

Seeing that the game park has no human inhabitants, however, it’s beauty lies within the bush. As we were driving, I could see lush plains filled with bright green trees and plants that are indigenous to only Africa itself.

Something else that is indigenous to the continent are the animals that we saw. Before we were able to actually enter the park itself, we were stopped at a security checkpoint. Most of us were half asleep, seeing that we had been stopped many times before by Ugandan police to have our bus checked for bombs ( fortunately for the police we left them all at home). Yet, this checkpoint was different. The bus started rolling again…

and BAM! There were at least 10 giraffes to the right of our bus. We had all expected to see animals but not that soon. A few kilometers went by and then we saw at least 4 giant elephants just hanging out about 40 yards away from the road. A few of them  had those Zazu-looking birds on them just like out of Lion King. It was so cool.

At the beginning of my Sophomore year, my Stats professor Dr. Ravi Nath showed us his pictures from when he brought his family and himself on a safari in the tip of Africa. He told us everyone should go. I never really thought that I would be folllowing his command so soon, to be honest.

But the funny thing is, I wasn’t even on the safari yet. That would officially happen 2 days from now.


Giraffes are even more amazing and even more taller than the ones at Henry Doorly Zoo.

Don’t feed the animals

Giraffe sighting on the game drive.

Carol asked me how big the giraffe exhibit is at the zoo in Omaha. My immediate response was to tell her that it was small – but I’m pretty sure it’s because I had just seen about 50 giraffes roaming freely on the vast African savannah (and I’m pretty sure my jaw was wide open the entire time).

I had been looking forward to seeing the giraffes on this trip – to me there is just something so majestic about these tall creatures. But make no mistake, just because they are gentle and don’t have a voice box doesn’t mean that they’ll go down without a fight. Our safari guide told us that it would take a pack of 7-10 lions to take down a single giraffe.

Not only was it a treat to see giraffes, elephants, waterbuffalo and other wildlife, we were also lucky enough to witness a leopard (yep, you read that right) take down its prey. Seeing a lion is pretty rare on a safari, so seeing a leopard – that’s one in a million.

I’m pretty sure that in any other situation, it’s advised to stay away from wild leopards. But when you are on a safari, in a huge blue bus, it’s clearly expected to do some off-roading and head straight toward the leopard. It’s a good thing it already had its dinner in its mouth.