Posted in Africa, Nature, Photography, Travel

First Trip to Africa

When I was a teenager, I spent summers reading the National Geographics stored in my grandmother’s attic. I disappeared from those dull, never-ending days into a world full of gorillas and man-eating lions, of exotic peoples dressed only in feathers, of crocodiles and snakes and fish that could eat me. From old black-and-white photographs I conjured a fantastical place that mixed the jungles and deserts and continents of the world and labeled it Africa!

In 1996, fresh off a 747, I smelled the air of southern Africa for the first time: soft and warm as clean sheets drying in the sun, mixed with a whiff of smoke and sweet mulch, the mineral scent of sand, hot fur and the dry and dusty trees. I was absolutely convinced I had breathed this scent before, as if my body remembered Africa as the birthplace of my species.

This is the first photo I took of wildlife in Africa: a bushbuck in the small park that surrounds Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe side.  And in the five trips I’ve taken since then, I’ve never seen another bushbuck.  That’s Africa: never the same day twice.

photograph by Cheryl Merrill
photograph by Cheryl Merrill


Cheryl Merrill’s essays have been published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity, Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review, Adventum and Isotope. “Singing Like Yma Sumac” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005 and Creative Nonfiction #27. It was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Another essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart 2008. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.

6 thoughts on “First Trip to Africa

    1. This photo was taken on the Zimbabwe side, where the park is a little larger. I took it early one morning when not too many people were out and about. Where are you going on your trip?

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