In the end, Madagascar was a great post. I got off the paranoia-inducing anti-malarial and found fulfilling work. I completed my manuscript of the Left Hand of God and put it on the shelf. Determined to do better than I had with that attempt, I started on yet another book. That one was about Dominican organ harvesters. They took a job that required a victim with a specific wound needed to test a new robotic arm. I called the book ‘Cut Loose’.
The off-island job with USAID got me around Africa, and particularly to Namibia down in the south. In the time I was there I managed to get to a little game park twice, and twice had amazing experiences. The first time, I was in the swimming pool after a long day of baiting cheetahs. The bait was game meat strapped to the hood of an open vehicle. The cheetahs would chase the jeep and jump onto the hood. When I got back to the hotel pool, two more cheetahs got into the enclosed pool area and began to meander around. I had heard that cheetahs were not known to attack adult humans. So I was enjoying their proximity until a couple came into the pool area with two small children. The cheetahs immediately sensed a meal and began to stalk the family. They stalked by slowly circling, waiting for an opportunity to grab a kid.
The couple started to freak out and asked aloud what they should do. I said, “If I were you I’d get into the pool until someone gets those animals out of here.” It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think cheetahs could swim – I had no idea about that. But I was fairly certain that these two particular cheetahs couldn’t because both of them were missing their hind legs. They had their bellies strapped to makeshift carts that rolled on rubber wheels. I was pretty sure that even the cheetahs had figured out that their trollies wouldn’t float.
The second thing that happened to me there also involved an animal attack. Only that time there was an actual victim, and it was me. Where cheetahs are not known for attacking humans, leopards certainly are. They are, in fact, the most ferocious of the all the big cats. So there I was minding my own business, walking through a line of buildings at this farm. I heard this tremendous bone rattling roar and felt a pair of jaws clamp into my lower leg. I screamed in pain and writhed on the ground trying to pry the leopard off. Never mind that the cub was probably no more than six weeks old…it was still seriously hard to budge.
I enjoyed telling this story and watching the awe or disbelief grow in my audience’s eyes. Then seeing it turn to disdain as I delivered the line, “It was a little baby cat.” That is I was enjoying it until I mentioned it at a dinner party we were having once I’d returned to Madagascar. I told the story to those assembled, including a guest who was the embassy nurse. “Did you get a rabies shots?” She asked. No, I said, it had never crossed my mind. “Well then I’ll see you in my office tomorrow and we can begin the treatment course.” That sort of took the fun out of telling that particular tale – at least for a little while.