Elephants, all of them larger than the 4×4 separating me from them, approached the only watering hole for kilometres around. With elegance and intention fused into their strides, they lined up in front of the glistening watering hole like sinners in need of prayer. As soon as their trunks submerged into the water, I realised that this was a kind of church.
It was certainly soaked in the silence I’ve only ever found in church.
Behind the fully grown elephants, who were knee-deep in prayer and filling their bodies with holy water, two younger elephants, with entwined trunks, tussled back and forth.
They reminded me of the Sundays I spent behind, instead of inside, the church my grandmother would take me to as a child. To the young, humans and animals alike, playing seems much more appealing than praying.
A few hours later, after the elephants left the only place that both cleansed and replenished them, I noticed a rhino on the opposite shore of the watering hole. I have no idea how long it had been standing there, and for a while, I wondered why it was simply staring at the water, never faltering. Moments later, a baby rhino emerged from the water with its grey skin polished to perfection. I sat in the backseat of the car, quite a distance away from them, yearning to know if these tender beasts had any idea how rare and significant their existence has come to be.
As we left the watering hole, everyone in the car overcome with silence and appreciation, it was clear that Etosha no longer felt like a reserve. It symbolised kinship, the type I have often run into and out of in Namibia. My experience of Etosha had me spellbound, I was in constant wonder of the animals I encountered and their sacred interactions with the thirst-stricken ground, sheltering camel thorn trees and the opaque dust that followed them faithfully.
Months later, on what seemed like a normal day in Windhoek’s city centre, I was suddenly doused in the echoes of my love affair with Etosha as I gazed at a crowd of people, all of them in possession of personal assignments for the day.
These city dwellers, who manoeuvred comfortably in to buildings and out of streets overflowing with taxis, seemed like a complex version of the interconnected network found within Etosha.
Whether the sacred nature of existence that is present in Etosha has any influence on the way I operate as a Namibian or if it is pure coincidence – I do not know. But what I know for sure is that all it takes to experience the kind of awareness that ignites every fibre of your being is to witness animals do what they do best; exist.
by James Strauss