Those were the first words I saw at the Botswana International Airport. I later learned during our orientation that it meant Welcome. Excited can not fully explain how I felt about visiting Africa. As a dental student, going on an externship was a part of our requirements. My dental school had partnered with many places both within and outside of the United States. The year prior, a few friends of mine had completed their dental externship in Africa and kept raving about their experience. A Local dentist from there had come to visit them in the United States. During her visit, we became friends. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be going to Africa too.
Going on a safari was one of the top things on my to-do list but sadly it was too expensive and could not be met within my student budget. I paid for the whole trip out of pocket which was a major expense so sadly visiting the local zoos was what I could afford to do. My host family surprised me with tickets to one of the largest local animal reserves. It was their way of lifting my spirits when they learned of my disappointment. We left at 4 am that morning for the reserve which was located an hour away. It was winter and that morning was chilly. We got there and boarded the bus. They made It feel like we were on a safari even though we were not out there in the wilderness. That actually didn’t matter to me and I was extremely excited. It was the three of us with two other families. The driver gave us strict rules about remaining on the bus and not getting too close to the animals. We were told that taking pictures was allowed but of course safety was the top priority. Our journey began through the reserve and I couldn’t wait to see the animals. This trip occurred in 2010 when camera phones weren’t as common as they are now. Having access to a fancy camera was a privilege that I could not afford but a cheap camera from a local pharmacy sufficed. The main intent was to capture the best images possible.
While we drove around the reserve, it felt surreal to see giraffes, elephants, ostriches and monkeys but it was the rhinoceros that caught my attention. I was taken aback by their size and stature. We watched as some of them walked around but there were two of them near the water. I have learned that white rhinos are herbivores with long snouts that can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. The name rhinoceros was derived from the greek words rhino which meant nose and ceros which meant horn. The white rhinos we saw on our trip had only one horn. Sadly Rhinos were being hunted and would one day face extinction. However, I was elated about having the opportunity to have seen them.
Once the bus made a stop, I pulled out my camera and snapped a few pictures. In an attempt to get a closer view, I leaned outside the bus. This was when one of the rhinos turned around and stared at us. It began to make some scary noises and we feared that it would charge at us. The driver said that we needed to leave immediately. There were maybe just a few seconds before we drove off but thankfully I got that last shot. As we drove away the rhino could be seen walking slowly to where our safari was parked. It stared at us for a bit as we drove away. This was probably one of my scariest and definitely the closest encounter with a wild animal who wasn’t caged. Before that, I thought my recent baboon experience where they suddenly appeared during one of our hikes had startled me. However, as I watched the rhino turn around slowly, while it scanned and began to charge with its eyes locked in on me was definitely frightening. Of course they were other magnificent animals seen on the trip but my most memorable was the rhino that day.
I have held on to images from this trip for years. I did share them on facebook but I tried to find a way to improve on this particular photo's quality. I am no photographer and far from an editing professional but I wanted to edit the image of the rhino staring at me. I intensified the colors and brought it back to life. With a brightened image, the memory became less scary scary and stayed focused on how beautiful the white rhino was in its surroundings.