Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Excerpt from a set of essays on our Botswana trip, February, 2012

6. Ornithology
Like, you can’t do a story on bird watching.
—Stephanie Foo
The sound is haunting, constant, repeated. It comes from far off in the bush, then closer, as if answered in kind.
Work harder,” says Fausto, smiling, interpreting. Work harder. Work harder. Work harder.
The command takes me back forty years, to Los Angeles, at Disneyland with our two daughters and my aunt. We’re not working harder; instead, we’re sitting in a small open train car, or maybe it’s a boat, moving through a dark tunnel. Puppets dance in the scenes as we pass through, smiling, happy, singing, puppets. The tune and lyrics enter my brain, sort of like some infectious worm, never to leave: It’s a small world after all. Even as Fausto translates the incessant call, that music, those words, and the happy puppets move through my head as if I were once again a young parent with kids in tow. What is it about certain sounds, I wonder, that makes them so infective, so memorable, rather like your mother’s voice, reading a nursery rhyme as she held you on her lap? Or an African dove telling you you’re not working hard enough?
Drink lager,” Fausto says, providing an alternate translation. “In the morning, it’s work harder; as you get into the afternoon, it’s time to drink lager.” Drink lager. Drink lager. Drink lager. Now that’s more like it, I think. The doves have their daily schedule down pat. Of all the sounds collected during this brief time in Africa—far-off lions in the night, hippos snorting, also in the night but not so distant, that elephant’s ears slapping back against her head as the dust billows up—it’s that dove’s command that joins my mother’s voice and Disney’s notes as one more never-ending tape playing constantly, even as I’m over the Atlantic Ocean, heading home, or driving across the prairies, going somewhere American. Work harder then drink lager. Makes sense. The keys to success and happiness delivered by a dove.

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