Staring Down the Barrel of a Gun

So how does one end up in the highlands of Uganda staring down the barrel of a gun?

The rules were clear: Do not touch, Do not approach, Do not run. We waited in anticipation as the forest came alive before us. The Bweza family emerged. Their size was overwhelming, yet I could draw no comparison to the King Kong beasts I naively envisioned. They moved about in a serene fashion completely disinterested by their awe-struck audience. The Silverback, rooted in place, watched his family play, graze, explore. Nervous giggles broke the silence as tiny siblings fumbled about before reluctantly retreating to the sound of protective mama grunts. If you don’t buy Darwin’s theory of evolution, you haven’t been gorilla trekking. The hour in their presence was every bit as humbling as it was mind blowing. It suddenly became incomprehensible to think such powerful creatures were on the brink of extinction. I caught a glance of our team, silent yet connected, completely immersed in the present moment.

The moment came to an abrupt end. Their expressions changed from awe to fear as they began to back away. Quickly. I instinctively went to follow before being halted by a stern whisper, “Megan, stop. Get low, do not move”. There was no need to look; I could feel the ground shake, I could hear the branches snap. With a whoosh of air and a hard thud, I found myself sitting back to back with a 600 pound mountain gorilla.

It wasn’t until the porter raised his gun that reality set in. His expression was one of deep concentration; the only movements across his stoic face were the drips of sweat trickling form his brow. I no longer recognized him as Mo, our lively Ugandan guide who only hours ago lit up describing his first of many unforgettable encounters. With a finger locked on the trigger, it was clear there would be no hesitation if it came to a matter of our safety.

Mo, barely old enough to drive, was dangerously close to taking an innocent life. We got too close. We were the intruders that left a papa unknowingly at gunpoint while grazing for lunch. I dreaded the imminent possibility of one life lost and another irrevocably changed. Mo’s jaw slowly unclenched, the lines on his face softened; his expression became one of unmistakable relief. The ground beneath me trembled once more as the satisfied ape made his way back up the mountain.

With closed eyes and a bowed head, Mo whispered Weebale. You didn’t need to speak Ganada to understand the heartfelt thank you.

So did it really happen…?

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