First Trip to the Zoo

Our West African friends Momodou and Laye are brilliant and fun-loving men. In his late fifties, Momodou has a satirical sense of humor, which reminds me of my brother Steve. Laye is much younger, about 30. He’s a sweet and kind gentleman, like my husband Chocho. Both men are multilingual, and both speak French much better than I do.

As is typical for rural men in similar circumstances, their world has remained small due to the demands of village and family life as well as limited resources (including the lack of educational opportunities, money for travel, and media exposure to the larger world). We’re pretty sure this trip to see us was Laye’s first time out of his country.

At the time, we were living in a neighboring country so our daughter could attend high school. Momodou and Laye had joined us there for a focused time of working with Chocho on the Kawah Bible translation. Because the work was intense, we had planned a trip to the local zoo for a break. The trip turned into an unforgettable day for all of us. It was a beautiful thing to catch glimpses of God’s creation through fresh eyes.

Our break from intense translation work turned into an unforgettable adventure.

Our adventure began before we even got inside. As we approached the entry gate, we passed a sign advertising the zoo’s new venomous snake exhibit. Pictures of cobras adorned the sign.

“Are you interested, Momodou?” I asked.

“No! I’ve seen enough snakes in the village. They scare me.”

“Yeah, that exhibit is for city people. I’m not interested either,” I truthfully replied.

Our guide met us as we entered the gate.

The alligator pit was our first stop, followed by an old spotted hyena named, ironically enough, Momodou, after the man who had transported him to the zoo. That was just plain funny. Momodou the hyena had a snaggletooth, and Laye took his picture.

There were a couple of other hyenas in nearby cages, and our guide petted the breast of one named Tom. “His belly is full,” he noted. The distance separating the humans from the cage bars was only about two feet, and our guide routinely walked right up to them. He also did knucks with Mouctar the chimp and other risky and inadvisable antics.

The tiger that had been brought here from South Africa was truly impressive. We were thankful that he lifted his head and let us see his beautiful markings. Momodou’s excitement was evident as he urged Laye, “Hurry! Take a picture! He’s opening his mouth!” Momodou then asked our guide where the female was and got an explanation about the difficulties in breeding tigers. We all felt sorry for the tiger. He needed a mate.

We ended up seeing some snakes, even though we hadn’t planned to, because there were two cages of pythons along our path. Our guide picked up a stick and started jabbing one, goading it to move. The snake was not impressed. I wondered how often it had been disturbed by our guide for the benefit of his clients.

When we got to the Asian water buffalo, our guide started to open the enclosure and invite us inside. Our friends were scared, to say the least, because the water buffalo in their home area can be deadly. However, our guide reassured us that Asian water buffalo are peaceful and used in agriculture. Knowing this to be true, I ventured inside for a closer look. Convinced by my “brave” example, Momodou followed. The water buffalo’s name was Big, which he truly was. He was also quite beautiful — from a distance of 10 feet. Laye didn’t come in with us, but he did capture a picture!

The lions impressed Momodou and Laye the most. Momodou said he’d been wanting to see one of these big cats his entire life. The cats’ size, especially their heads and paws, as well as the amount of meat they consume in a week, was mind blowing to Momodou. My mind was blown by our guide pulling hair out of the mane of an old lion to give to Momodou and Laye as souvenirs. Laye also got some good pictures.

Next was the ostrich, and both men wanted their pictures taken with it. Momodou loved the way its body looked, like it was dressed up in some fancy material. While said ostrich was distracted with visitors at the other side of its bars, our guide opened the enclosure gate and snagged a feather as a souvenir for Momodou. This treasure, along with the lion’s hair, made Momodou’s day.

As we left, Momodou kept saying, “I’ve seen marvelous things today: the lion, the tiger, the ostrich. I’ve never seen them before. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. It will never happen again.” His only regret was that the zoo didn’t have an elephant. I hope someday he’ll get to see one.

It’s a beautiful thing to catch glimpses of God’s creation through fresh eyes.

It was truly a delight and honor to experience the zoo with Momodou and Laye. Their reactions were priceless. Both men drew so much pleasure from simply seeing new animals. The size of the big cats’ paws made their mouths drop open. They jumped back in fear, as did I, when the lion roared. (He didn’t appreciate having his hair pulled.) Truly our two friends reminded me of what it is to stand in awe before the majestic. I badly needed that, because I had forgotten to be in awe of God’s creation.

Photo by Qungging Cai on Unsplash

Iya and her husband Chocho love a West African people who follow a different holy book. They work on a beautiful multicultural translation team that has finished the Pentateuch and is working hard on the New Testament. Iya believes her host country has the best mangoes in the world, and if you visit her, she’ll make you a mango pie to prove it. She and Chocho are parents to two adult daughters who grew up in West Africa.
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