Once arrived in Cape Town and settled in Hotel Silowe sat together and watched what awaited us: an early morning motorbike ride around Table Mountain then wine tasting, a helicopter ride over Botswana’s Okavango Delta to our first safari camp Duba Plainsthen a mobile safari in the Moremi Game Reserve with Barclay Stenner Safaris. I felt like I was looking at myself in a mirror. We were both sitting cross-legged, leaning back in our chairs, arms behind our heads. I quickly changed positions.
This continued to happen during our trip. When we first met our guide, Carlos, at Duba Plains camp, we both approached him in exactly the same way I normally approach people, with intense eye contact and my right hand outstretched, practically bumping into each other to get there first. Later, after spending the morning with a herd of elephants and capturing a thrilling moment when a pack of African dogs hunted a kudu, we met Map Ives, a guide and conservationist, for lunch to learn more about the delta. As Ives explained how the annual floods year after year create a lush and completely unique natural landscape, I kept getting caught up in my own natural phenomenon: my dad and I subconsciously have the same body language.
The next few days went through the routine of most safaris: wake up at 5.30am for the morning game drive, lunch at 1pm, free time until 4pm, then we went out for an evening game drive, and returned to camp for dinner around 8pm. But that left little time for the heart-to-heart conversations I had envisioned having with my father, forcing us to become vulnerable and undo some emotional damage. And when we had time in the afternoon, my father wanted to rest.
It ended up being a blessing in disguise, though. As the days went on and I sipped my afternoon rooibos tea while my dad slept, thinking back to a morning spent gazing at the beating heart of the natural world, not only did I feel my own relationship trauma floating in the dusty, warm breeze, but the need to clear away my childhood scruples seemed increasingly insignificant.
On the bush plane to the Moremi Game Reserve for our final leg of the trip, I asked my dad if he had noticed any similarities in our body language. “Of course I did,” he joked with a laugh. “You always looked like me. This caught me off guard. “No!” was my first reaction. Then I realized how much I had resisted that idea.
Curious to test a new state of mind, one in which I try not to let our similarities irritate me, I had the hope of bonding in a more natural way. But soon after settling into Barclay and Stenner Camp, a laboriously appointed oasis deep in the national park with its own king-size bed, bucket toilet and pull-down shower, my father fell ill with a cold.
The next day I found myself without my father, led by the camp operators and guides, John Barclay and James Stenner, on a morning walk. We found a pride of lions and I was stunned when a young man came out of the sage by cannon and woke up his sister having fun. She began to stretch her back by placing her paws on a tree in a near-standing, face-down dog position, and her brother quickly approached and copied her. Watching their instincts and family dynamics expanded my own realization the day before on the bush plane: humans (as animals) learn and grow through imitation and shared experiences. It was a spectacular sight, and I realized that I would have liked to share it with my father, even if we had the same look as we squinted through the binoculars to see it.