In the summer of 2007, I was about to begin shooting the TV series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The story is set in Botswana, so before we started, our director, Anthony Minghella, took me, Anika Noni Rose, and Lucian Msamati out on safari in the Kalahari desert. None of us had really met each other, so this was a time for us to bond, run lines, and, in my case, freak out. I thought safaris were something only crazy rich people did. As a touring musician, I’d spent time in France, Holland, the U.K., Barbados, but nothing compares to Africa. I mean, nothing.
As Americans, we tend to think poverty, war, and illness, but when I arrived in the Botswanan city of Gaborone, everyone spoke about nine languages; many had PhDs and had studied in Australia, Europe, or Japan—I met so many African people who spoke Japanese it was crazy. I still had these silly preconceptions: “Oh, no, we’re going to have to pee outside!” Meanwhile, my little condo had a flat-screen and a deep soaking tub.
But it definitely got surreal. We were in Gweta, Maun, and other places around the country. You’d see a cow the size of a rhinoceros. You’d see a lion walking in the middle of the road and pity the fool who walked home from school that day. When it was time for the safari, we flew from Gaborone to Maun and then took a helicopter to the Kalahari desert. The first thing I noticed was the silence. It was so quiet it terrified me. Then they drove us to our safari lodge, Jack’s Camp, and again I was terrified. We were gonna be sleeping in tents, and I was sure I was gonna get eaten by a lion.
“You’d see a lion walking in the middles of the road and pity the fool who walked home from school that day.”
My “tent” wasn’t really a tent. Its walls were made of this amazing fabric, and it had a tub made of copper, a toilet, and a four-poster bed of carved mahogany. Nonetheless, I was in the middle of the desert and had just been told that if I saw a lion I should ring a bell. “Does the bell scare away the lion?” “No, it just lets us know there’s a lion.” Great.
But the sun came up, and everything changed. First, they brought coffee to my tent and, oh my, it was so good. I mean, in Botswana the coffee at gas stations is amazing, but at Jack’s Camp it was incredible: a rich, full-bodied blend where you taste the beans themselves. Then we had a decadent breakfast and went on a walk with the Basarwa tribe. After this, they had each of us take a head wrap and goggles and mount an ATV. We drove into the desert until it looked like the sand turned white. When the guide stopped, he said, “Lick yourselves.” Once we did, he said, “This is the salt flats of Botswana. It’s as large as Switzerland.”
The sunset was the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I’ve ever seen: blaring shades of purple, green, gold, and orange. The sun was so big you could run into it. And right after it set, I turned around and watched the moon rise, this huge full moon that was so bright you could see the color of people’s eyes. I had no choice but to drop to my knees. They told us to lie on our backs and watch the sky, and I saw a shooting star and made a wish. Then there was another, and another, and another—hundreds of shooting stars. I had never seen the sky the way I did in Botswana, without mountains, buildings, light; the universe just put on the most amazing show.
I’d never questioned whether there was a God, but after that night I was certain. Even now, I get overwhelmed thinking about it. When we were together by a fire, underneath that sky, let me tell you, I sang. I have no idea what songs—I was just making things up. Now I can’t wait to take my son, who’s 9. It’s super important that he experience it. I completely believe that. If you’ve got a big ego, Africa will definitely humble your a**.
Jill Scott is a three-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, actress, and New York Times best-selling poet. She stars in The First Wives Club, a new BET series.