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  • *On R&R midway through our two-year stay in Mogadishu, Somalia, we visited our friend, Barbara, in Nairobi. She offered to take us -- Fred, me, and our two kids, Dakota, 10, and Tina, 9 -- to the city game park.*

    Our Land Rover bumped along the two-track road and raised a plume of dust that feathered away in the breeze. The indefinable mixture of odors - something rotting, something blooming, something ripe and edible – symbolized the essence of Africa and made me want to beat my chest like Tarzan.

    Over the next hill, a pride of lions lazed in the sun. They sprawled in a circle around the bloody remains of the haunch of a large animal, antelope perhaps. Two cubs growled in mock battle over a bone. The older animals, dozing in postprandial bliss, did not open even one eye to check us out. Barbara pulled off the road and drove around the lions in a detour wide enough to leave them in peace.

    "Will we get to see rhinos?" Dakota asked.

    "Maybe," Barbara answered. "We're heading for the area where they like to hang out, but there are only five white rhinos in the whole park and they're shy, so I can't say for sure that we'll find them today."

    As we reached the summit of the highest of the hills, we caught sight of the skyline of the city of Nairobi. Surrounded by rolling sandy terrain, groves of verdant acacia trees, low growths of gray-green bush, and breeze-ruffled tawny grasses, we gazed across at the striking glint of skyscrapers against a backdrop of cerulean sky.

    "Look there!" Barbara stuck her arm out the window and pointed toward the nearest grove of acacias.

    A massive rhino ambled into the clearing and began grazing. Barbara put the Land Rover in reverse and brought us closer in a slow, wide arc. With the back of the vehicle facing the rhino, Dakota and Tina had a perfect view through the open hatch.

    "That rhino isn't even white." Tina sounded disappointed.

    "I know," Barbara said. "I was surprised, too, the first time I saw a white rhino. The name was supposed to be wide, not white. Look at his lips. See how wide they are? The wideness is perfect for gathering big mouths-full of grass."

    The rhino went on grazing as if we weren't there discussing his color and his lips.

    "Let's see if I can get his attention." Barbara revved the engine once, twice, three times, louder and longer each time.

    The rhino raised his head. He snorted. His right front foot pawed the ground. He started trotting toward the Land Rover.

    "Oh damn." Barbara jammed the gearshift into first and stomped on the gas. The engine died.

    The rhino's trot quickened.

    "Go-go-go!" was all I could say.

    Barbara cranked the key. The engine coughed and died again.

    The rhino's pace accelerated.

    The rhino lowered his head.

    Tina landed in the seat next to me. I didn't see her coming. She must have flown.

    Barbara cranked the key again. The engine coughed and started. Barbara trounced the gas pedal and the Land Rover jerked forward.

    Dakota froze in the jump seat. He stared at the charging rhino.

    The rhino's hooves pounded a dreadful rhythm on the packed earth. Dust swirled up from the Land Rover's spinning tires and mingled with the cloud raised by the racing rhino hooves. I heard the huff-grunt-huff of the rhino's snorting as he came closer and closer to the back of the truck.

    The Land Rover picked up speed. The rhino broke into a gallop.

    "Dakota. Come. Here." I reached back and tried to will Dakota to scramble forward to safety. He did not move. The rhino's charge held him spellbound.

    Within inches of our tailgate, for no apparent reason, the rhino turned off to the left. He slowed to a standstill and resumed grazing as if nothing had interrupted his meal. In seconds he disappeared behind the screen of our dust cloud.

    Fred and I whooped and hollered while Barbara drove straight for the main park road and the relative safety of the area patrolled by armed rangers.

    Dakota at last released his grip on the edge of the jump seat and came back to life. He climbed forward to join Tina and me in the back seat. The rest of us stopped our exclamations and looked at him, waiting to hear his personal eyewitness account.

    "You know what?" he used his familiar deliberate delivery that always promised a pithy punch line. "Rhino breath really reeks!"
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