Daisy practically ingests my hand as she ensures that not a crumb of food is left behind. Her long grey-pink tongue wraps firmly around my outreached hand, eagerly accepting the gift proffered as if it’s the first food she’s seen in weeks. I know it’s not. Her eyes are deep and kind, the chocolate pools radiate majesty and knowledge. Her coat is beautiful. The intricate tan and rusty brown pattern mesmerizes me. Without thinking, I stretch my free hand out to stroke the coarse hair. Her shyness returns. She raises her head and steps back, leaving my hand empty and considerably wetter than it had been moments before.
A second proffered gift, and the tongue shoots back out, eager to accept. The craziness of the situation hits me for the 100th time since boarding that Air France 747 in Washington, D.C. 26 hours ago and I laugh. Awe and joy rush in, pushing out any other emotion. I am standing in the middle of Nairobi, about to go on Safari, feeding a full grown giraffe. Pinch me.
“Oh my goodness. You have the coolest tongue!” My mother laughs as she offers Daisy some food. “Oooh! But you really are slimy right now!” It’s true. My hand is slimy with what they assure me is antiseptic saliva. My hand empty again, I step back next to our guide, Lewella, to dry it off and refill it.
“Are you going to kiss her?” Lewella asks. His round joyful face spreads into a great grin at my reaction.
Lewella explains that because giraffes have to strip the Acacia leaves off branches equipped with some serious thorns, they have developed an antiseptic tongue & saliva. This antiseptic nature allows them to avoid infection, heal quickly, and, incidentally, makes it perfectly safe to “kiss” a giraffe.
Mom was the first to accept. “Come on guys! We’re in Africa! When are we going to have this opportunity again?”
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
I’m really going to do this aren’t I? Yes. Yes I am. I pick out a particularly long piece of food from my handful and, trying not to think of what it would taste like should I fail to do this correctly, fix it between my lips with as much as possible sticking out. I start to walk giddily toward the giraffe; everyone is having a great time laughing and carrying on. I can feel the laughter bubbling up again. All right, Daisy. Pay attention. I’m trying to feed you. Daisy! The giraffe must know I have more food in my hand because she’s much more interested in it than the piece I’m trying to offer her with my mouth. She quickly seems to decide that one piece is better than none because she gives up, and the next thing I know she bends over, licks my face with one clean swoop, and raises up victorious the piece of food – now hers. Adrenaline flows from my reddening face down to my toes. Just like that. It must have taken only 30 seconds, maybe and I can barely comprehend it.
I just “kissed” a giraffe. I just “kissed” a freaking giraffe! Pinch Me.