The Saucy Safari Queen

There’s nothing more fabulous than a woman who works with incredibly dangerous animals.

Ten years ago I was on a snorkeling trip in Zanzibar, when I overheard a woman say, “I’ve been working in Zambia for six months and now I’m exploring East Africa. Alone.”

“Hey, that’s my line!” I said.

The tall, red-headed beauty, originally from South Africa, had been working at a safari camp in Zambia—my favorite safari just up the road—but we had never met.  Like me, she was early thirties with long hair and green eyes.

It got even weirder when she confessed later, over a margarita, that she had had bulimia.

“Also my line!” I declared, stunned I was confessing to a stranger.

We stared, silently checking each other out looking for signs. She had quite full cheeks—often a giveaway—but no burst blood vessels like me. Her teeth were tarnished but her knuckles looked unscathed. Teeth scars on knuckles are a sure sign for active bulimics, like ex-prisoners wear LOVE and HATE tattoos across theirs.

Sitting up taller, I told Bree* I was over it.

“Oh, so am I,” she said, meeting my gaze.

What were the odds—meeting a cool, witty woman, who had a thirst for adventure, and understood my crackpot disorder? We planned our days together and celebrated with more margaritas. I had met my Doppelgänger.

Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, was packed with busy bazaars, mosques and grand houses that took us far out of Africa and into exotic Arabia.

We visited a historic slave trade site. Exploring underground concrete dungeons with a deep channel in the middle for the tide to flow in and clean out sewage was a grim picture of the horror of the cramped, scary, conditions. We felt sick, then linked arms and admitted how crazy it was to feel genuinely nauseous about something emotional and real—only someone in our secret society could understand.

Stone Town, the Islamic Capital was a colorful riot of spices and sweet smells The variety of food was exciting if not a tad threatening for two ex-bulimics. One night we went to a wharf feast where local fisherman cooked up freshly caught seafood on BBQs.

We managed to tuck away each: five tiger prawns, four slabs of tuna, two spicy barracuda kebabs, one chewy baby octopus and three mussels. It was a lot but so fresh, light and tasty I felt well satiated afterwards, not stuffed. Besides, we planned to go to a club and dance it off.

It turned out Bree felt quite differently. I recognized her excuse immediately—she wanted, needed, to check some emails in her hotel room all of a sudden. Judging by the exterior of her hotel there was little chance of coffee in the room, let alone an internet connection, and this was before Wi-Fi but I, of all people, could not pull her up. We hugged, addict to addict, and she said she would try to find me in the club later but we both knew she wouldn’t.

She had a date with her demon and shame would lead her to bed afterwards.

Rejection crept around my shoulders as I stood on the street. I thought we were equals but her bulimia still had a grip over her. In that instant I knew how my dear, loyal friends felt, the ones who put up with my dismissive behavior for years. It cuts when you know somebody’s lying. It’s worse when you feel powerless to help.

Bree’s purge was alien to me. For her it was all about how much, not what. I would have plundered the town eating kebabs, wontons, mezze, na’an bread and all the Arabian sweets I could find—have it all and screw that self-control—before I slipped back to my hotel. Bringing up the delicious, nutritious seafood seemed like a waste to me: better in than out. Oh the irony, as wasting an extra fifty dollars and three hours of eating on fried food and cakes, in my messed up rulebook, was not.

We met for lunch the next day and ate green salad—the ideal post binge food—but everything had changed. Bree knew I knew. Being hopeless at pretending I didn’t know, we danced around the white elephant with a prawn in its trunk. Like I used to be, she didn’t want to discuss or think about the purge—it was a new day.

She said she had some things to do by herself.

“Oh, so do I,” I said quickly, meeting her wall with my own pop-up one.

That was the last time we saw each other.

It had been three years since I had vomited up food and I could see Bree so clearly. She was happy traveling alone, with her own secret BF. It was easier that way staying in hotel rooms with private bathrooms. She could have been me. Schadenfreude is never classy but at the time I felt relieved. It was cruelly wonderful to be able to see somebody in a place I used to be. I was happy traveling alone not because my bulimia demanded it, but because I chose to be. I felt grateful and sad we met.

Here’s to you Bree, you strong, powerful safari woman. Wherever you are. I understand why you ran away from me, I would have to. I hope you found love; the only way to melt our bossy addicts into submission. Thank you for the adventures. I hope one day we’ll cross paths again.

*Bree’s name has been changed.

Image source.