Martin and Markian asked whether they could take some photographs. Initial reluctance quickly yielded to universal enthusiasm—eventually every- one in the village, after dressing in their best flowing robes, wanted his or her picture taken.
Hilary and I were particularly impressed by a pair of pretty young girls who were watching everything with large, curious eyes. We asked how old they were. No one knew. "They are about twelve," we were finally told, which was roughly what we'd figured.
The two girls looked pleased but puzzled about being photographed. As we soon learned, they had never seen photographs of themselves. Of course, scenes in which the technologically unsophisticated are shown scientific marvels can seem irredeemably clichéd. But if anything can redeem them, it's a 12-year-old girl, bringing to the moment a freshness of experience that revitalizes all of our worn impressions.
Martin handed one of the girls a Polaroid of herself and her friend. What ensued was one of the sweetest sights I've seen in my life. The girl peered hard at the picture and then whooped and laughed in a bright ecstasy of recognition. There I am! her smile and her laughter declared. That's me!
The trip ended and yet lingered—lingers. You might say it ends finally some 7,000 miles away. My daughter and I are in New York, at the Museum of Natural History. We, too, are having our bright moments of recognition. We're saying, I saw those and I recognize that. We're walking from one diorama to another in the Hall of African Mammals. Thompson's gazelles?We can now distinguish them from Grant's gazelles. Wildebeests?Topi?We identify them.
After seeing the real thing, we'd worried that the museum might seem tame. But the opposite proves true. We bring to the dioramas something new, a rich, slightly dizzying dual vision. It's as if, not long ago, we stepped behind the glass and walked there.
One of the dioramas depicts the Serengeti. Someone has painted a baobab in the background. We can almost see a man standing in the tree's crown, stoically going about his business in a cloud of drugged but angry bees. He's tossing honey to the ground.