The Exception to the Rule

I have a few rules

“Is this seat open?” The handsome stranger asked in accented English. I made an exception to the ‘don’t talk to strangers rule’. I’m a lot better at being open when I’m 8000 miles from home as opposed to being in my own town.

“Yes”. I replied as he sat down.

“Do you know those people?” He was referring to the three people in my group of 7 who pitched a total hissy fit about sleeping arrangements.

“No. I only joined the group this afternoon. I don’t even know their names.”

A scheduling snafu, or perhaps this is how it’s always done, had me sleeping in a tent with two guys. One–from Hong Kong, who barely spoke English, and the second–the handsome stranger with the accented English who was my current dining companion.

We started chatting, the way travelers do when they first meet someone. “Where are you from?” [Me: the United States; Him: Italy, Milan specifcally]. What do you do when you aren’t traveling? [Me: I’m a RN; Him: journalist] Why are you in Kenya [Me: to teach; him: to explore]. Verbal parrying continued, each trying to suss out whether the other person would make an interesting companion past tonight’s dinner.

Dining Companions

Dinner was a simple meal; white rice and a meat stew on top. I’ve learned not to ask what “kind” of meat is in meat stew. Most often, it’s goat, or chola in Kenya, and while I’ll not be eating any goat in the US, when in Kenya….

After dinner we leave the communal dining room together. Despite the long travel day and our early morning start, I’m not quite ready to turn in. I notice you following me to the bonfire. I’m a sucker for a bonfire. Any bonfire. Any where.

After the sun sets, it’s surprisingly chilly. After nearly a month in this country, the nighttime chill shouldn’t surprise me. Yet, it does. Every time. “I’m going to run and get my jacket.” I say to no one in particular, but especially to you so that you won’t leave.

I run back to our shared tent, which seems a lot more intimate than it is, and grab my flannel shirt. That’s what’s been serving as a ‘jacket’ these last few chilly days., and run back out to the bonfire. You are writing in your journal as I quietly take a seat opposite from you. I stare into the fire, somewhat lost in thought, when you blurt out, “What do you think of the state of the world right now?”

Borrowing a line from Harry Potter, I reply, ‘The whole world’s gone topsy-turvy.’ I hope that satisfies you, because the truth of it is, I don’t enjoy discussing politics. Or religion. People generally have forgotten how to have intelligent discourse and disagree without resorting to personal attacks.

“Do you know who the prime minister of Italy is?” he asked.

“I do. Her name in Meloni.” I can tell you’re impressed. I didn’t volunteer that I’d only just learned that recently due to a podcast. “Most Americans don’t know that” you replied.

“Most Americans don’t know who their own representatives are” I countered.

“You’re not like most Americans” you assess with certainty although we’ve only known each other about 3 hours.

“Well, I try”

Things suddenly got serious. “Well, I don’t know many Italians to compare you to. Italian-Americans, maybe, but actual Italians, not so much.”

You laugh. “What is it with Americans claiming to be “something”-American. No other country does that.”

Now, it’s my turn to laugh. ‘I have no idea. My European ancestors literally came over on the Mayflower 400 years ago. And they were from the UK. I don’t go around saying ‘I’m British-American'”

You laugh again.

The Conversation Turns Serious

“Do you have on-line dating in Italy? Like Tinder?” I don’t know why I ask this.

“Yes. Of course. Why? Are you on it?

“Me? No.”

“Why not?” you ask.

“Well, I was in a relationship for a really long time and now I’m not. But picking someone out and ‘adding to cart’ like an Amazon purchase seems like the wrong way to go about meeting a potential partner. Besides people are superficial. Especially online. No one takes the time to get to know anyone anymore.”

“You mean like this” you ask.

“Yes. Exactly like this. No one in America has time for hours long dinners that lead to chatting around a bonfire for two hours. It’s go-go-go. All the time. And, besides, I don’t like small talk.”

“So what do you like to talk about, then”

“oh you know, ones hopes and dreams and fears. Goals in life. And bears”

“Bears?” you ask questioningly.

“Specifically the coastal Alaskan brown bear. And even more specifically, a bear named Otis” I reply.

You laugh.

“Well tell me about Otis” you say.

And I do. At length. At times, I wonder if I’m following the unwritten dating rules. Or is this an exception since this isn’t really a date. I decided to go with exception and talk way too much about Otis. And Pete. I do not mention my ex. No matter the situation, that’s definitely not an exception. You talk about Italy. And Ukraine. And South Sudan, You avoid mentioning other humans.

Somehow it’s midnight and the fire has almost burned out.

“I suppose we should get some sleep. We’ve got an early start.” I say to myself. And you.. As were walk back to our tent, I feel your hand brush against mine

A Truly Magical Day

Who the fuck puts on make-up for a safari I thought as I carefully applied eyeshadow. Wait scratch that–Who the fuck BRINGS make-up on a safari. Apparently I do. If this isn’t some irony. A person who rarely wears make in the everyday life is putting on make-up to go on a safari.

Safari ready, make-up and all.

Shortly after our breakfast of beans and toast, we loaded up into our (separate) safari jeeps and set off to chase animals around Amboseli National Park.

It was amazing.

So many elephants.

And flamingos.

And some hippos.

I saw hundreds of zebras.

And giraffes.

I even saw the one animal I really wanted to see

After the safari was over we met back at the campsite and compared stories and animal sightings over dinner. You said it was cute how excited I got over seeing a lion for the first time.

“Better than seeing Otis” you joked. “Only because I’ve never actually seen Otis in person I replied”

“Come with me. I want to show you something even better than Otis. And lions.”

We walk outside and the full moon is rising over Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was an awe inspiring sight.

“I know you said you don’t kiss strangers, but I’ll hope you’ll make an exception. Besides we’re not really strangers anymore, are we. We’ve known each other exactly 26 hours.”

And standing there, in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, with the full moon shining overhead, you kiss me. And then we walk hand in hand back to our tent.

Shout out to Paramore and “The Only Exception” for this post.

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