Something strange has been happening on the vanity of the front of house bathroom. We refer to it as a “loo with a view,” because it has no doors and is open on three sides to the lagoon and its cornucopia of furry and feathered inhabitants. This view adds a bit of excitement to the otherwise monotonous task of visiting the ladies. Baboons and squirrels love to steal toilet paper; the squirrels use it for nesting, while the baboons use it to decorate surrounding trees. I can think of no logical motivation for this, although I suspect they enjoy watching me wade through mosquito-infested bush trying to fish the paper off of thorny branches with a broom.
Toilet paper is not the only item of interest in the loo. The mirrors attract plenty of visitors, and one in particular has drawn a great deal of attention from guests and staff alike. The Bradfield’s Hornbill, also known as the “Zazu bird,” regularly fails to distinguish his reflection in the mirror from a competing male. Nearly every day we watch several hornbills make the same error. The hornbill lands next to the sink, glares at the face staring back at him, and flies with fantastic confidence into the glass. Landing with a thud, he picks himself up, ruffles his feathers, and pauses only briefly before repeating the sad exercise.
Today a guest suggested that we ought to take pity on these birds by placing a curtain over the mirrors. This was not the first time I had heard this, and I agreed, that after nearly six months of watching what might be the same hornbill smash into a mirror, enough might be enough. Mirrors do not occur naturally in the wild, and it seemed unfair to leave our winged friends at the mercy of the looking glass. I was reminded of the numerous times I aimed at myself during a game of laser-tag. In the dark and smoke it appeared that I was face to face with the enemy. One painful shot later I would curse the damned mirror and myself for not recognizing that the enemy was, in fact, me.
The truth is, I have long felt a kinship with these birds, and not because I am awful at laser-tag. I may not be crashing into any glass, but I still curse the mirror and the reflection staring back at me. Is this the girl who forgot to order flour? Is this the girl who hid the remaining brownies from the guests, desperate for a chocolate fix, and then proceeded to eat all four? Is this the so-called professional who failed and broke down in in front of the staff, let tears fall in public and ran away like she was escaping a school yard fight? Is this the history student with no cooking ability who thought she could manage a kitchen and seven chefs who expect a manager who knows what she is doing and not a foreigner who still forgets which side of the car the driver’s seat is on? There is the mirror, confirming that this mess of a person with hair gone wild is you, not some stranger who clearly needs a cup of strong coffee, or sleep, or jelly tots, or all three, for that matter.
A simple curtain is all the hornbill needs to leave his reflection alone. Kicking my bad habit is an ongoing project. A good friend told me when I started this job that no matter how terrible the crisis, or how badly I thought I had ruined everything, I could rest assured that someday soon we would laugh about it. Early in my days as a camp manager, it took several weeks at a time for me to gather the perspective that laughter requires. I don’t know if I will ever stop seeing the enemy in myself when things go wrong. Still, I can celebrate the fact that a year down the road it’s far less difficult to find humour in disaster. The hornbill throws himself at the mirror and winds up with a bruised beak. Self-deprecation hurts. It makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to apply a little forgiveness.
Misguided and stubborn, the hornbill has become a sort of inspiration. He’s the little bird reminding me to take it easy on the face above the sink. I even have his picture taped to the corner of my mirror, in case I forget.