Living in Belgium, my mom and dad had never seen an ostrich. They had seen such a bird on television, of course, but they had never seen a real live one.
So, when they came to visit me in South Africa, I suggested a visit to a game park. The game park was some distance away, so we decided to make it a little camping trip. “Can I come too?” my 6 year old son asked. Of course he could.
They were so excited and were so looking forward to their night out in the wild and seeing an ostrich up close and personal.
“Have you been there before?” my mom asked.
“Yes, I was there last year,” I said.
“Are the ostriches scared of us?” she wanted to know. “Or do they come up to the people?”
“When I was there they didn’t exactly come to the people,” I said, “but they came nosing in the rubbish bins near the lunch tables.”
“Oh good,” my mom clasped her hands together, “so when we stop for lunch we might get to meet them.”
“If they come close enough,” I said. “You never know with these birds.”
You never know indeed.
The night before our trip to the game park, while my dad packed the car, my mom and I prepared a cold lunch for the four of us. Everything went into pots and early in the morning we set off for our trip.
We were hardly in the game park when my mom spotted an ostrich.
“Oh look,” she said, “there’s one. I wonder if I can go take a look at him.”
“You stay right here,” I told her. “Look, you do not have to go to him, he is coming to you.”
Nothing could have pleased her more.
Lazily the ostrich walked up to the car, daintily placing one long leg in front of the other, moving his head up and down and side to side. Having arrived at the car he gave three short pecks at the side window where my mom was sitting.
“Can I roll the window down?” she asked. Sure, why not.
The window was hardly lowered when the ostrich’s head appeared in the car, along with about 15 inches of his neck. He looked at each of us individually and we looked at him.
Oh, he was a magnificent animal! Big and tall, with lots of black, grey and white fluffy feathers, and with long lashes over warm, dark eyes.
At the allocated spot we set up the tent, made it comfortable, and by the time it was finished, it was time for lunch. We could have eaten at the tent, but mom was anxious to meet more ostriches, and so she suggested that we go and eat at the open air lunch patio. Her wish was my command.
At the lunch patio numerous families had already gathered around the tables and under the umbrellas. All of them were barbecuing. When we started unpacking our cooler and placing the food on the table, we were looked at and whispered about. As we placed the potato salad, lettuce and tomato mixture and chicken pieces on the table people were shaking their heads and barely managed to hide their laughter. How rude I thought. If they want to barbeque that is their good right, just as it is my right to eat something cold.
We had no idea what the whispering and sniggering was all about, but we were about to find out. Six ostriches approached the patio.
“Do you think they’ll come as close as the rubbish bins?” my mom asked expectantly.
Before I could answer the ostriches marched past the rubbish bins and headed towards our table.
Before we knew what was happening, much less could do anything, the six surrounded our table and started pecking at our food. In a matter of seconds they had pecked the pots and plates clean. It was literally a case of peck, peck, peck, peck, peck and everything but everything was gone! Whether it was potato in mayonnaise, lettuce in olive oil dressing, or fried chicken, the ostriches devoured it ALL!
One even stole a rather large tomato out of the cooler and swallowed it whole. For a moment I thought he might choke on it, but we could see the tomato glide down his long throat.
My dad had been very brave and had grabbed a basket of bread off the table, holding it high over his head away from the six hungry beasts. Little did he know that a seventh ostrich had joined the party and was standing right behind him. Peck, peck, peck and the bread was gone too.
When all the food was gone, the ostriches walked away. Dazed we looked at each other and the emptytable. All around us people were holding their breath, waiting for our reaction. Would we get angry? Or, would we see the humor of it?
The couple at the nearest table told us that barbequing was the only way to eat in the park. The fire was the only thing that kept the ostriches at bay. We, with our cold food, had just about sent them an engraved invitation.
We nodded, wordlessly. There we were, robbed and hungry, and the next moment … howling with laughter.