Almost daily I find myself in the midst of scenes and events that somehow seem casual…until further reflection. Then I realize, typically after the fact, that almost nothing about them was remotely mundane. I suppose that’s the way we tend to view our own lives, if only because the experience is our reality.
The great cat-venture could be considered a good example now that I sit here thinking about it (more on that later), but Saturday afternoon may just top them all. I’ll let you be the judge.
It was an average day in Tete City, all the provincial volunteers visiting the capital to celebrate two birthdays. We were meeting at a restaurant on the banks of the Zambezi River, a swanky outdoor eatery in stark contrast with the usual local bathers and laundresses in the water below. Three of us arrived ahead of the rest to see a large crowd gathered on the shore, watching a second crowd working diligently in the fast-moving current.
Oh no, we all said in unison, they found a body again. We weren’t wrong, but it definitely wasn’t the type of body we were expecting.
As we made our way to a table inside, the other patrons seemed thoroughly unimpressed by the scene. It wasn’t adding up. We approached the railing, leaned over, and strained our eyes to see that the group of men in the shallows was hovering around a large grey mass. Some were toting hand-smithed axes, others holding the edges of a large sheet, and others furiously pulling and shifting smaller masses.
The waiter approached to ask us what we would like to drink, entirely ignoring the commotion until asked about it directly. Oh that? He shrugged and waved it off with a dismissive smirk. They’ve killed a hippo.
According to his intel, the hippopotamus had been wandering alone on the banks further upstream. When spotted by people in nearby homes, it was immediately pursued with axes and machetes until it made its wounded way back to the water. The hunting party followed, gaining ranks as the pachyderm floated along. There were nearly 100 people by the time it reached water shallow enough for them finish the job.
It took over 4 hours and approximately 30 men to hack through the leathery hide and thick layers of blubber, each swing of the handmade axes landing in dull thuds. The crowd waxed and waned with the arrival of police, firing warning shots into the air over the course of an hour. Though frowned upon but not technically illegal, law enforcement was only asking that the hippo be moved to solid ground to prevent any more than the three drownings that had already silently occurred.
And we stood there drinking beers. Commentating on the event. Eating burgers and plates of nachos and listening to American 80s music as it all unfolded. By the time we paid the bill, there was no trace left of the entire debacle but a small portion of hippo skin drying in the sun.