The day my life changed

15th July 2011 at 01:00
The lion was gnawing at my head, like a dog on a bone

I don't know why the lion chose to pounce on me. Someone said it was because I was the smallest in the group. Others said it was because my hair is like a lion's mane: it's the same colour and curly. I do know that it was just playing. If it had been serious, I wouldn't be here today.

I'd always wanted to travel in Africa. I'd been teaching for two years and wanted a change. So I went to Tanzania and spent three months in a village, teaching English. Then I booked onto an organised safari, going from Kenya down to Victoria Falls.

Part of the safari was on a game reserve, walking with lions was the main activity - it was just seen as the thing to do. It had been going for 13 years, so you trust it.

Before the walk, we had to tuck everything in. They particularly like dangling bits, lions. They didn't mention hair, though. I often tie mine up, but that day I had it half up and half down.

We started walking towards some bushes and one of the guides brought out three lions. They were very calm, just like three dogs. We took turns to stroke them and take pictures.

Then we started to walk back. It all felt normal at that point. I was chatting to someone and the lion was walking behind me. And then it just pounced.

At first, it jumped up and put its paws on my head. Then they slipped onto my shoulders and the weight pulled me down to the ground. It happened so quickly, I didn't have time to think. Then, once I was down, I thought: "This is it. I'm a gonner."

He was gnawing on my head, like a dog on a bone. I thought: "Well, I've had quite a good life." Then I thought: "Hang on a minute - I'm too young to die," and I started shouting: "Get me out! Help!"

The guides grabbed the lion and pulled him off me. I didn't really know what was going on - it's all a bit blurry. I know I was shaking and crying. I was really hysterical.

It was shock that made me cry, not pain. At first, I said: "Oh, my knee hurts." I'd twisted my knee as I'd gone down. Then I saw blood on my top and I felt my head throbbing. My hair is quite thick, so we weren't sure how bad the cuts were. But my head was cut in three places and there could have been dirt in there from the lion's claws and teeth.

The first hospital we went to didn't have any doctors. The second hospital didn't have the right equipment. By then I just wanted someone to give me painkillers. At the final hospital, I had 13 stitches. The doctors asked how it had happened and I said: "I walked with lions." They looked at me, as if to say, "Stupid tourist!"

Then I went back on safari. When I phoned my mum, she said: "So, you didn't get eaten by a lion, then?" I had to say: "Oh, haha," because obviously I couldn't tell her over the phone.

The following day, there was a lion-cub encounter and I decided to do it. People always say the best thing to do with fear is confront it. But, having my photo taken, I had to turn my back on the cubs. That was the worst thing for me. I didn't stay there for very long.

I'm normally fine with animals. But for about six months afterwards I was really scared of dogs. When my brother's dog tried to nibble my ankles, I yelled, "Get that dog away!" But it seems to be getting better with time.

When I came back to school, the children all wanted to have the lion teacher. I did an assembly about life in Africa and I've never had more attention. The boys will say, "It's cool," but they realise you have to be careful dealing with wild animals. You're not invincible.

Kate Drew was talking to Adi Bloom; she worked for Village Africa, which recruits volunteer teachers.


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