Peace Corps Writers
The Lion in the Garden of the Guenet Hotel (page 2)

The Lion in the Garden of the Guenet Hotel

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page 2

DURING THE DINNER I mentioned the lion and dog in the garden of the Guenet and the pilot asked me if I knew the story of how the they had gotten to the hotel.
     It seems that the first American TWA director in Ethiopia had raised the lion from a small cub in his home’s compound along with the family’s dog. The lion was such a household pet that everyone who visited the house treated it as such.
     But there was the time the CEO of TWA worldwide came to Ethiopia to meet the Emperor and visit his overseas operation. Trans World Air Lines had managed Ethiopian Airlines since 1946 and that relationship was one of the great early success stories of private development in Africa. In fact, by the time we reached the country in ’62 over a third of the trained pilots were Ethiopians.
     The CEO arrived at dawn in Addis Ababa on an overnight flight from Europe and immediately took a morning nap at the managing director’s home.
     Later that afternoon, rested and revived, the CEO was sitting with a half dozen pilots who had stopped by for a drink and to meet their boss. The group was sitting in the livingroom and the the French doors were open to the garden so that they could watch the African sunset and enjoy the first cool breeze of evening.
     Sometime towards dusk, the full grown lion, who had been asleep in the sunny terrace beyond the French doors, woke up and ambled passed the open door, gazed in at the assembled group, and then ambled off.
     No one commented about the lion, as all the pilots knew about the animal. However, the visiting CEO had no idea that the enormous maned lion was a household pet and sat petrified at the sight of this legendary African beast — on the loose and just yards from him.
     He didn’t say anything until the next morning when he confessed to his host what he thought he had seen, thinking it must have been a frightening fantasy caused by his fear of being in Africa. The host explained the presence of the lion to him and the CEO’s mind was put somewhat at ease.
     Some time later, the American manager’s tour in Ethiopia was scheduled to come to an end and the family decided to give the lion to the nearby hotel as the tame animal could not be returned to the wild. The German shepherd, however, would go back to America with them.
     In the weeks before their departure, the lion was successfully transferred, but when the family realized the German shepherd was so lonely and unhappy with the loss of his companion they decided to leave the dog as well, giving both animals to the Guenet where they could live peacefully in the small cage in the hotel gardens.
     And it was there that I found them when I arrived in Addis Ababa.

I LEFT ETHIOPIA in the mid-sixties and did not return again until the early ’70s. While I had a short list of old friends in Addis I wanted to see, high on that list also were the lion and the German shepherd in the gardens of the Guenet.
     A day or so after arriving, I took a taxi to the hotel, which had thankfully not changed much in the years I had been away, and I walked into the garden to find the caged lion and the German shepherd.
     The cage was where I remembered it. However, the door was wide open and the lion was gone. Sitting alone in the middle of the empty concrete floor was the old German shepherd.
     I walked inside to the front desk of the hotel and asked about the lion and was told the animal had died only months before. It had been such a news event that a story was published about his death in the Ethiopian Herald, the English language newspaper in the country. The staff found a copy of the article that detailed the demise of the lion and I sat down in the lobby of the old hotel and read the account.
     Several months earlier when the lion was suffering from an infected tooth, doctors from the Pasteur Institute of Ethiopia decided to drug the animal so the tooth could be extracted. Unfortunately the dart of drugs was too much for the old animal and the lion died before it could be saved.
     The hotel had not yet decided what to do about the lion cage for the dog still lived there, spending his days waiting for his lifelong companion to return.
     I gave the article back to the receptionist, thanked him for the information, and then I went out into the garden and walked through the open gate and inside the cage. I knelt down beside the German shepherd and petted the old dog one last time, then I left Addis Ababa and Africa.
     I have never been back.

John Coyne is the founding editor of Peace Corps Writers and the author of the recently published novel, The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan.

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