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The Tortoise and the Hippo
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 • Posted August 18, 2009

We all know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Well, I came across this story in a recent newspaper article about a tortoise and a hippo:

“One day after a devastating tsunami sent surging waves along the coast of Kenya on December 26, 2004, villagers found a baby hippopotamus in the sea, stranded on a sandy coral reef without his mother. Hundreds of villagers worked together to save the hippo, as they knew he would become sick if he stayed in the salty seawater too long.

“Two feet tall and 600 pounds, the baby hippopotamus was secured in nets and named ‘Owen’ after a rescuer. He was hoisted into the back of a pickup truck and taken to Haller Park, an animal sanctuary about 50 miles away in the city of Mombasa.

“Once at Haller Park, Owen was placed in an enclosure with a 130-year-old tortoise called Mzee—the oldest resident in the Park. That night, Owen snuggled up against Mzee. As the days passed, the unlikely pair became friends; soon they were inseparable. They slept together, and Mzee showed Owen what to eat. They learned to trust one another.

“Their story of friendship gained international attention. People were surprised that a mammal, such as Owen, and a reptile, such as Mzee, could form such a strong bond. Scientists aren’t sure whether Mzee—a tortoise who once preferred to be alone—sees Owen as a fellow tortoise or if Mzee knows that Owen isn’t a tortoise, but likes him anyway. One thing however, is clear: Owen and Mzee found friendship when they least expected it.” (“Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship,” Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Paula Kahumbu)

I kinda think that we, too, can find friendship in unexpected places. And, like Owen and Mzee, our friendships do not have to be bound by age, race, gender, or religion.

While traveling from El Paso to Carlsbad, my wife and I stopped in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert to eat a greasyburger in a lonely little roadside café. Before renewing our journey, we engaged in some pleasantries with a couple seated at a nearby table, who were conversing with each other in English but with an unusual, for us, foreign accent.

Laurie and Melanie Kennedy from Eaglehawk, Victoria, Australia, after that chance meeting, have become some of our most cherished friends. Over the years they have visited us both in El Paso and in the Texas Hill Country. On one occasion, we took them with us to Mexico where Melanie fell in love with the children in a remote little Mennonite school. Although many miles apart, we keep in touch with our Aussie friends by e-mail and by telephone.

An Arabian proverb says, “A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Marvin J. Ashton said, “A friend is a person who is willing to take me the way I am but who is willing and able to leave me better than he found me.” (“What Is a Friend?,” Ensign, January 1973)

Because of Mzee, Owen not only had a friend, but had learned how to make friends. More than a year after the friends met, Mzee was taken out of the pair’s enclosure for medical treatment. When Mzee was gone, Owen found a new friend, another tortoise named Toto.

When Mzee returned, Owen did not forget Toto. Today, Mzee, Toto and Owen rest their heads on each other and take naps in the heat of the day. (“Owen & Mzee, “The Language of Friendship,” Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Paula Kahumbu)

“Their story of friendship has a simple message. If we try, we can find friendship everywhere—even in the most unlikely places.”

Source: Deseret News, “Viewpoint,” Week ending August 1, 2009

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