GLOBAL MYTHS NO 25

Another story from the travellers' grapevine

AN OLD friend of mine called Hilary told me about the time she took her three-year-old daughter, Karen, on holiday with her to Zimbabwe.

Karen was a marvellous little person to travel with: everybody loved her - from policemen to waiters - and she had the excellent habit of falling asleep every afternoon, just when Hilary was in need of a little time to herself.

One day, my friend had driven miles to a spot which was well-known as a watering hole for elephants and giraffes. Hilary carefully parked her car in the shade and was told by the waiting ranger to hurry up and climb into the viewing-tower, on stilts in the water, from where it was possible to view the animals drinking.

Would it be all right to leave Karen sleeping inside the car, with the window open, Hilary asked? Of course, he assured her, she would only be away for about fifteen minutes. The elephants would have no interest in the parked cars under the trees. What would disturb them, however, would be people walking around their water hole: that was why it was important to hurry up to the tower as the elephants were due to arrive and it could be dangerous to be around at ground level.

Sure enough, no sooner had they climbed into the viewing-tower than the whole herd of elephants, and a few loping giraffes, began to arrive. Big ones, small ones, they were soon milling round in the mud, crushing all the small shrubs and plants in their way.

Suddenly, in the distance, Hilary noticed a small white object between the feet of one of the large elephants. Could it be ...? Surely not ...? It was! Karen's hat! Hilary rushed down screaming to find that her daughter had woken up and opened the car door by herself.

At the sound of the screams, the protective wall of elephants parted, and Karen toddled out with a worried look on her face. "Stop screaming, mummy!" she said, "you'll upset the elephants."

Susan Needham

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