Lake Manyara, Tanzania:
The forest canopy is a lazy tangle of green. Bright splashes of sunlight play against the leaves and branches of African olives, fig trees, wild mangoes, giant junipers. The roof on our vehicle has been raised and everyone is standing, listening to the rustle of branches coming from somewhere in the jumbled underbrush. Our Rover creeps forward, its wheels almost noiseless on the forest track while the scurrying sounds become louder, more emphatic. My eyes search the ground for the animal—perhaps a mongoose or a wild boar. Then, as we round a corner, the animal’s feet appear. Looking up, I find myself face to face with a colossal African elephant, not more than two metres away. He’s sluggishly munching the leaves of a tree that he’s pulled over and doesn’t look particularly surprised to see us. I, on the other hand, am shaking so thoroughly that I can hardly raise my camera to take a picture.
We’ve come to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park as part of a five day safari that will take us to several of the country’s wild places, including the Ngorongoro-Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire—three of the best game viewing parks in Tanzania. This is not, perhaps, what most people would consider a budget holiday (over $1500 US per person), but the Tanzanian government has made a concerted effort to protect its wilds by keeping prices high and, consequently, traffic low. The result is a less crowded, higher quality experience for visitors. And I reckon the animals appreciate it too.
Our Rover crawls through the Ground Water Forest, so named because of the underground springs and plentiful streams that create this oasis in an otherwise arid landscape. The greenery is so dense it seems vengeful, as if the flowering ginger and hibiscus, the towering Quinine and Antiaris trees were making a point: with enough water this area could explode into elaborate jungle. As it is, the forest ends abruptly at the roadside on our left. To the right is a broad expanse, peopled with bushes, Baobab trees, and a sea of waving grasses. We are five people in one large 4×4, whose raised roof allows us to stand and watch the scenery without leaving the vehicle. During our first 15 minutes skirting the Ground Water Forest, we spot elephant, black colobus monkeys, mongoose, a monitor lizard, dik dik, baboons and numerous species of bird, including the fantastically colourful lilac-breasted roller.
On days when I’m feeling blunt, I need only look to my kids for reminders of what creativity looks like. Ask my daughter to tell you a story about a lonely shoe, for example, and she’ll say:
Once there was a lonely shoe named Bobby who lived in the forest where everyone else had evacuated from a fire years before and they never came back. Now Bobby lived under a tree in the ground and he spent his days hunting for blueberries because there were a lot of blueberry bushes in that forest. But one day he found a blueberry that kept rolling away from him. He picked it off the bush and it hopped out of his bag and rolled away. And then he found it and it hopped out of his hand and it rolled away. So Bobby followed it home and found his den. Bobby soon learned that the blueberry was not a blueberry but a type of Badumba fly, and it was nesting on the bush. And soon he found out that other flies lived there too, so he made friends with the flies and they all lived happily ever after. And he wasn’t a lonely shoe anymore.
I’m not making this up. I just asked her. So is she a creative genius? Of course she is, she’s my daughter. But more importantly she’s not weighed down by 1000 rules telling her, for example, that verbs should come early in a sentence, action should be linear, POVs consistent, you should show not tell and always remember that too great a narrative distance will make your characters seem contrived and two dimensional.
Kids don’t care about all that stuff. They just want sentences with zombies. And Bazumba flies. And long-suffering children who escape their wretched moms. Getting it “perfect” doesn’t occur to kids. They just wanna have fun. So I ask myself, when was the last time I set out to have fun, rather than create “art”?