My childhood fantasies of wandering through seas of tall green grass in search of rhinos and elephants were coming true. I could feel the panting of the monsoon on my neck, like some wild animal, threatening— but then the sky would smooth over, and the only wetness came dripping down my forehead and neck. A happy mess of sweat, sunscreen, and failing insect repellant, my eyes were wide for anything with a heartbeat. The air was full of every delightful cheep, tweet and hoot I could imagine— but what I found more interest and joy in listening to were the cheerful identifications of the calls, shared between Pedro and Tikka, the ornithologist.
"Zitting Cisticola. On the right. In the grass." Tikka calmly lead our eager eyes over to a clump of green, where I could see some movement and a flash of brown. How on earth he managed to find it still mystifies me. My heart pounded when I located the Cisticola through my binoculars, thrilled to be able to watch it fluff, twitch, and breathe. I later learned that this was not an especially exotic or rare bird. Nevertheless, I had never knowingly seen a Zitting Cisticola before, and silently celebrated.
Zitting Cisticola! Zitting Cisticola! I chanted in my head with each step further into the grass. Taking pleasure in the sound of the vowels and consonants in the little bird's name, this would be my mantra.
Down by the water, I saw my first rhino. At first we thought it was a cluster of tree branches, until it moved— he was a massive, intimidating male, with gleaming black skin and sharp, curved horn. For some reason I imagined the rhinos would be smaller— the word that still comes to mind is mighty. I climbed a small tree for a better look, where I was stung by an unseen and unhappy insect.
At some point in our wanderings, I noticed the faint outline of a paw print in a puddle at my feet.
"Tiger." Our guide declared with a grin. "Looks fairly fresh."
Zitting Cisticola! Zitting Cisticola! I continued to chant.