I’ve been trying to avoid being self-indulgent and mentioning my recent marriage to the most beautiful, intelligent, and vivacious woman in the whole world but now it’s unavoidable. After our wedding three weeks ago, we’d been visiting the hyena man’s house nightly and his family, who treat me as one of their own, were taking my wife, Tigist, into their hearts. On the fourth night, we were sitting in front of the shrine and, while there was a lull in the feeding, Willi came up to give me his usual greeting. Basically a glance and a sniff of my boots, probably to see where I’ve been. But what happened next was amazing. Willi inspected my wife. To her credit, she sat perfectly still while he sniffed her knees and her hands, actually touching her with his nose. Then seemingly satisfied, he wandered off in search of some bones to crunch. This was interesting because it’s highly unusual for Willi to sniff someone so closely. Usually all he does is stand in front of a person at the shrine and bob his head up and down, probably wondering if they have any food available. All I can imagine is that he’d watched Tigist and I together for so many nights and decided he should find out what this person smelled like.
The following night I took Tigist to the hill and found Willi lying in the grass. I let him bite my sleeve while I handed Tigist my torch to scratch his chin with. This was when number two amazing thing happened. Willi bit into my arm a little too hard and I reacted instinctively, smacking him on the head with my (aluminium) torch. He recoiled and retreated 5 metres, looking at me warily. But then immediately he came back and held his nose up to my face and let me pat his head and say sorry. Commonsense would dictate that he should be afraid of me after cracking him on the head with a torch, but it was entirely the reverse. It was touching that he must have understood why I hit him and trusted me not to do it again if he came back. As my Harari friend, who often visits the hyena feeding says, ‘Willi is the strangest hyena’.