A Longing for Africa – Journeys Inspired by the Life of Jane Goodall
Part One: Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Airlines stewardess touched my shoulder. I awoke to a high altitude African sunrise of red, orange and fuchsia spread across the horizon. Our plane was about to land in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, after sixteen hours in the air. My mouth was dry, my legs were cramped, and the large African man beside me had the most awful body odor. I struggled to sit upright and fastened my seatbelt. I pressed my forehead to the small window beside me and stared with wonder at the timeless tableau spread out below.
I saw diminutive round huts topped with pointed thatched roofs in small clearings carved from the bush beside the airport runway. Lazy threads of smoke from cooking fires rose to meet the morning mist
clinging to the ground. The roaring plane took one pass over the airport and scattered the goats and camels grazing on the tarmac. It banked and circled so close to the roofs that I could see women tending the fires with infants tied to their backs. Naked toddlers crawled and chickens pecked in the dirt.
Although the scene was entirely foreign to me, it also felt familiar. I had kept what I called an African scrapbook from the time I could be trusted with a pair of scissors and a roll of tape, collecting photographs, articles, and anything about Africa I found. I’d been preparing for this moment since I was six years old.
I was in my early twenties now and had grown up dreaming of two opposite fantasies. There was Cinderella in her pale blue ball gown and long white gloves, waltzing serenely in the arms of a handsome Prince Charming, secure in the knowledge that she had found true love, royal in-laws, and a true castle for a home. This was the fantasy of every American girl who grew up in the Fifties. But then there was my special fantasy of Jane Goodall in her rumpled khakis from the pages of National Geographic and Life magazines—the heroine of my scrapbook.
She was my Jane, alone with her chimpanzees, her canvas safari tent in the Tanzanian rain forest, and, most of all, with her courage. Her story captivated me; I followed her life avidly. I knew her favorite chimps—David Greybeard, Flo, and Flint—and swooned from the romance of it all when she fell in love with Hugo Von Lawick, a photographer sent by National Geographic, whose presence in the rain forest she had initially and strenuously resisted.
Even Jane found her Prince Charming.