That time I got chased by a hippopotamus

19.19, Tuesday 22 Feb 2022

It was in Kenya, where I have family, and we were on safari and had stopped around a lake to look at the hippos. I was 11 maybe? Or thereabouts. The hippos were hanging out in the water, heads just visible. There was a steep slope down from the path, and two or three of us were standing by the shore. The rest of the group had finished looking and wandered back up to the top.

Suddenly our guide yelled “crocodile!”

We sprinted up the slope and kept on sprinting for a few tens of metres for good measure.

Afterwards the guide told us that he had seen one hippopotamus rise up and begin to pick up pace towards us through the water. It wasn’t committed to the chase. It stopped at the lake’s edge seeing as we had been scared off. He said he shouted about a crocodile because he needed us to move quickly and we wouldn’t have responded fast enough if he had shouted about a hippo.

There are some stories like this where I would draw out a lesson but I don’t know how to generalise this life experience. It’s a thing that happened.

Another time we were looking at a chimpanzee and it picked up and pitched a rock the size of a tennis ball probably 20 feet, like a bullet, missing my sister’s head by a couple inches.

There are lots of stories. One visit I was walking with my mum in some woods near Nairobi on a short loop. We lost the path temporarily and my mum wanted to turn back. I was pretty confident we could find the route and besides I was sure I had my bearings. But my mum was being uncharacteristically cautious. I grew up in the New Forest in the south of England (she grew up in Nairobi) and got frustrated. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I said.

“Lions,” she said, and then, “Bandits.” Two good points. And however realistic in that year compared to when she had been my age, it focused my mind. We walked back the way we had come.

What a wonderful childhood.

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