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A Tale of Two Safari Guides

Twice I've visited heaven, or close to it: the Masai Mara, perhaps the greatest wildlife preserve in the world. The Masai Mara is part of the vast grasslands that stretch over the fertile plains of East Africa. Here, elephant, cheetah, gazelle, wildebeest, water buffalo, giraffe, crocodile, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and hundreds of other furry or scaly, tusked or horned, fleet-foot or slithering, flying or crawling, sun-loving or night-stalking creatures roam and soar and wade and burrow, without fear of man.

But the guides I had for the two trips could not have been more different from one another. The first guide, Stephen, made the trip a thing of joy and wonder and endless surprise. The second guide, William, almost ruined the trip entirely.

The difference was one thing: Stephen paid attention; William didn't. Stephen had good eyes; William didn't. I don't mean the power and clarity of their organ of sight. I mean, Stephen looked at the right thing at the right time with the right focus. And William didn't.

Stephen was a Masai man in his early 20s who grew up a few miles from the very ground we crossed together. The land was in his blood—every hillock and grove and bend of river. He knew in his bones the personal histories of many of the animals we saw. He had an intuition for finding animals that, at least to a suburban-living white guy like me who thinks a squirrel is a major wildlife sighting, seemed supernatural. He would stop and gaze at something two kilometers in the distance. It looked to me like more grass and acacia, but he would drive toward it. Maybe 300 yards away, I'd finally see what he saw: a mother rhino and its baby grazing in scrub brush or a pride of lions sleeping beneath a tree or a pair of cheetahs sunning themselves on a shelf of rock.

William was a Comba man in his mid-50s who grew up in Nairobi. He couldn't see for looking—but he wasn't looking anyhow. He spent most of his time chatting on his CB with his friends. He just followed the crowd. Wherever other vehicles congested, he went. We saw the animals, yes. But we saw them from within a swarm of dozens—sometimes hundreds—of other sightseers, each jockeying for a better view. One time we were traveling alone from the pack. A herd of elephants grazed at the roadside, mere feet away. William sailed past them, because he didn't see them.

"William!" we yelled. "Elephants!"

"Huh? Where?"

I tell you about Stephen and William to tell you this: the kingdom of God is at hand: Pay attention. You could miss it entirely if you choose to look at the wrong thing.

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