I’m a telecommuter, so I was just sitting here at home, eating my lunch and working on a manuscript, when the phone rang. My memories of the call are kind of fuzzy, because I was so stunned that my brain pretty much switched off for a while there.
The two men on the other end introduced themselves as John and Stephen from AWF, and told me I’d won a safari. At that point I became uncharacteristically speechless and, I’m quite certain, convinced them that they’d just given a very big prize to a very big idiot. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even thinking clearly enough to think it was a prank call. I simply didn’t believe it was happening at all. Somehow they managed to convince me it was real, and since that day my life has been a whirlwind of shopping for featherweight pants and biodegradable shampoo, seeing my doctor for vaccines and the all-important anti-malarial, reading and reading and reading about African wildlife and wildlife photography (I wasn’t kidding about loving books), and counting down the days until February 2nd.
The other unbelievable thing is that I get to bring someone along with me on this amazing trip. My youngest sister, Polly, and I had been talking for a while about taking a big trip together. (The Galapagos had been mentioned.) Time and (at least on my part) money hadn’t managed to mesh yet, though. So when I started thinking about who to invite, she jumped to mind. Happily, when I brought up the idea in a roundabout no–pressure way, she was as excited as I was. So now she, too, is involved in that same flurry of preparations, and it’s so much fun to be sharing this experience with her.
When AWF asked me to start blogging about this trip, one of the things they asked me was what I’m looking forward to, what I’m most excited about. At first I thought that was a really tough question, because just reading the itinerary gives me goose bumps. And then I realized it’s really a very easy question. I’m looking forward to animals. Big ones, small ones, predators and prey, the Big Five and the…what? Little One Hundred? All of them in the wild, all of them posing for my camera without realizing that’s what they’re doing, and all of them enriching my life and giving me not only memories but knowledge to take back to my FOZ duties at the zoo, so I can talk with even more passion about the things that matter to me, AWF, and the health of this planet. “The Lion King” talked about the circle of life, and I guess I feel a bit as if I’m now a part of that in my own way, with my life experiences preparing me to make the most of this incredible opportunity, which will itself prepare to make even more of my life here at home once I (no doubt reluctantly) return to it.
I haven’t even left yet, but already my life has changed in a fundamental way. A few weeks ago I was speaking at a writers’ conference where, like many conferences, the group was raffling off big goodie baskets to raise money for the organization. I started to say—as I always do whenever I buy a lottery ticket or a raffle ticket or enter a contest—“I might as well enter, even though I never win anything.” And then I stopped myself, because I realized that for the rest of my life I’ll never be able to say that again. Thanks to AWF, I’ve not only won, I’ve won big— and I’ve won something better than money. I’ve won the kind of experience I’ll remember all my life. I can’t wait to get started making those memories, and though I would ask all of you to come along for real if I could, that’s not in my power. Instead, I hope you’ll settle for a very distant second–best and come with me in this journal. I’ll do my best to make it as exciting for you as I know it will be for me.
Leslie Wainger is AWF's Serengeti Safari Sweepstakes winner. She will be traveling with AWF on the Serengeti Safari February 3-14, 2013, and she will be sharing stories and updates from her travels.
AWF Blogs bring you to the African Heartlands, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.