…my passage back into the land of the living

Julie Anne Rhodes

Julie Anne Rhodes
I finally took Tatjana to East Africa in July of 2005. It was in celebration of her graduation from high school and her 19th birthday. Ultimately, it was my passage back into the land of the living. I found my lust for life again after seven years of merely surviving through court battles, heartbreak, and illness. In my determination to lead a life beyond reproach I’d forgotten how to live.
Observing the behavior of the wildlife brought it all back to basics, and helped me understand human nature better. I could feel myself healing. I felt as if I’d come home. If you believe in evolution, I had. The bush reminded me that I needed to take risks, or life would pass me by. I felt alive again…
The End of the Game by Peter Beard
Peter Beard’s prophetic words “with elephantine memories & a new afterward”
“Mom, there is something outside and it sounds REALLY big!” It was 4am, and we were in a pitch black tent on the edge of the Samburu river in Kenya. “Come jump into bed with me” I groggily offered. No sooner had I started to drift back off to sleep and something huge was not only brushing up against the tent, but threatening to knock it over. I was suddenly wide awake with adrenalin pumping through every cell of my body. I reached for the foghorn to sound the alarm. It didn’t work. Tatjana and I grabbed each other and both screamed “HELPPPPPPPPPPP!” at the top of our lungs. “What was I thinking bringing her here?” kept racing through my mind.
Herd of elephants in Samburu
Elephants in the Samburu game reserve by Julie Anne Rhodes
Leopard in Samburu
Leopard in the Samburu game reserve by Julie Anne Rhodes
Reticulated Giraffe
Reticulated Giraffe in the Samburu game reserve by Julie Anne Rhodes
“It’s OK, go back to sleep, just an elephant eating leaves from the branch above your tent, they like acacia leaves” came the calming words of the guard who was right outside within seconds. Half an hour later Tatjana and I woke with a start again when the elephant shook the branch that our tent was pitched to. In doing so, a monkey fell out of the tree into the dressing room and was scampering around as frightened as we were “HEEEEEEELLLLLP!” we bellowed again. This time the man came to retrieve the monkey, and promised to stay right outside to make sure the five ton bull elephant, who obviously liked our scent (because he kept circling the tent), did not come too close again.
5 ton bull elephantThe elephant that wanted to share our tent by Julie Anne Rhodes
Curious to see if the elephant was still around once the sun came up, I opened a window flap at the back of the Beduoin tent only to find myself literally eye to eye with the gargantuan beast just six inches the other side of canvas. The trick now would be how to get past him to carry on with our itinerary to the Masai Mara?
The elephant that liked us a little too much
The guard warding off the elephant and waiting to escort us to the jeep.
The guard shot a bullet into the air to scare the elephant into backing off while we headed for the jeep, but the guard was faster than I was, and when I turned to look behind me the elephant did a mock charge. I flew into that jeep so fast I thought my heart would pound clean out of my chest, but oddly… rather than wanting to fly home to safety, I felt exhilarated and full of anticipation for next adventure.
Hot Air Ballooning with Tatjana over the Masai Mara
Julie Anne & Tatjana Rhodes
Up, up, and away…
To be continued:
East African Sweet Potato Soup

East African Sweet Potato Soup
Servings : 4
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon cumin
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 6 cups total)
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
salt and pepper to taste
roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish
cilantro, chopped for garnish
1). Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and red pepper; saute until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add peanut butter and cumin, stir constantly for 2 more minutes.
2). Add sweet potatoes, chickpeas, broth, and diced tomatoes. Season to taste. Bring to boil, and simmer for 30 minutes. Puree roughly with a hand blender or in batches in a blender.
Serving Suggestions: Serve hot garnished with chopped roasted peanuts and cilantro.
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  • September 19, 2009
    10:59 pm

    I decided that you are so freakin' cool. I love reading your blog….Lauren Haas

  • September 19, 2009
    11:07 pm

    Hi Julie Anne,Great introduction and brilliant writing. I have mentioned it before but I shall mention it again, I just love reading your blogs.The part where you mention taking risks or life would pass you by is SO,SO TRUE. It's amazing how your travels re-shape you and make you seen things differently.Wow….how exciting and terrifying at the same time having that elephant outside your tent. But what an experience it was. It just makes me want to go to Africa with my family. Perhaps someday. Aussie Mum

  • September 20, 2009
    1:38 am

    Wow, wow, WOW! My kind of gal. I love your adventures and had no idea you were in Africa! This is so exciting! I can hardly wait to hear more. And I'll have to go back in the archives and see what else you've been up to!Fascinating! Thank you!

  • September 21, 2009
    4:39 pm

    "Wow, Elephants, Monkeys, and Leopards oh my…lol that's crazy the elephant loved your scent. Elephants love models…. :)" Meagan Mullen

  • September 21, 2009
    4:44 pm

    Thanks Lauren, and yes Aussie mom…you must take your kids there one day! One of the most fascinating and rewarding trips Tatjana and I have ever taken together, Glad you liked the read Francie and I hope you'll come back for more…and Meagan you're just an imp! I adore you.

  • December 13, 2009
    5:13 pm

    i was on the edge of my seat reading that, i want more!!! …averil

  • November 24, 2010
    1:10 am

    Elephants share emotional traits with us that are amazing. As herds roam the same areas through their lives, they seem to remember where herd members died and they have been filmed visiting the bones and physically touching them with their hooves and trunks. They grieve, too. Bless their hearts.Have you seen the video of the elephant at the elephant sanctuary that became best friends with the sanctuary co-founder's dog? These two animals from completely different worlds found each other and struck up a very devoted and powerful bond. The dog was in an accident and suffered a spinal cord injury. She no longer was able to spend time with her best friend. It was at this point that the elephant came to the dog's home. She stood outside…and simply waited. The dog showed very little signs of improvement until one day the owner brought her to the balcony and it was the moment that she saw her friend looming below when she wagged her tail for the first time post-injury. To me, I thought that her will to live and to fight on returned upon seeing her devoted friend.Here's the URL to the 3 minute video from CBS news: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4OD8dxIry8 … have tissue!

  • March 19, 2013
    8:55 am

    What absolutely beautiful creatures! I an imagine being that close to one would be another experience in itself! it’s always striking how close to human behaviour animal behaviour can be but I do think we can learn from them too. Just how animals in the wild eat for survival and not just to eat, how nothing is wasted and the whole circle of things. I can’t wait to read the next piece!

  • March 19, 2013
    11:47 am

    Another fantastic post! Someday I hope to join a medical mission to Africa, and catch a wildebeast migration while there!

  • March 20, 2013
    7:23 pm

    Wow, what a fantastic experience!