I got the postcard in the mail. The front was yellow with happy people and Mickey Mouse on it. I knew what it was and was nervous to turn it over. But I did.
And there, on the bottom was the part I was hoping to see. I was going to be in the Operations section. I could be doing the Jungle Cruise! Or The Great Movie Ride! I was so excited! I was done with living with that many girls in such a small place and done with the classes. Ready for a new adventure, even if it would only be a few months relief.
Eventually, Spring Break arrived. I packed up what I would need in two suitcases and flew out East. I had a layover in Oklahoma to see a good friend. Had a blast in the 36 hours I was there and then continued on. On the flight into Orlando, I sat with a lady and a guy, both flying into Florida for different reasons. We talked the entire way there. I knew then that this was meant to be. God was opening too many doors and I was too at peace for it to be otherwise.
I arrived the day before check in and was picked up by another friend in the area. He dropped me off at a hotel near the area and I fell asleep after calling a cab for the morning.
I am someone who likes to be early to anything. If I am on time, my mind thinks its late. So I arrived for the 8am check-in at 7:30. I hung out and chatted with a couple other people that were early like me and waited in line. We then went down the row and got our apartment assignments and our job assignments.
I opened my white envelope and almost dropped it with surprise. I wasn’t going to be doing the Jungle Cruise or the Great Movie Ride. I was going to be driving a truck for Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I had gone to Walt Disney World in 98 when the park first opened and it was always my favorite ride.
I walked into a little tent area to sign paperwork and get more information for the next plan before orientation. There, I saw the guy who interviewed me. I went to him and almost started crying. I thanked him profusely for this opportunity. He just smiled and said “I recommended you for this position. I knew you would be wonderful at it.”
I then found my apartment and my excitement went down just a bit. I was rooming with 5 girls who had been together for 4 months already. To add to that feeling of being an intrusion, I also was the only white girl. Now, this didn’t throw me off at first. But gradually, as I got to know the girls, the prejudice against me was strong enough to touch. Of the five girls, one was from Mexico, one from Haiti, one from Puerto Rico, one from Nigeria and one from another Caribbean island. When they discovered that I also had a job in Operations, I had never felt more unwelcome. They were all in either housekeeping or food service and held it against me.
Things started out okay as long as I kept to myself. Over the next two months though, when they saw that the basic exclusionary tactics of ignoring and moving my stuff didn’t do anything, things became rougher.
My first day on the job was wonderful. I discovered that I was one of 6 interns that were slotted into the Safari staff. 6 out of close to 75 staff total. I was lucky! The first few days were spent learning our script and the positions. There were 6 pages of script as well as the animal facts.
If you have never been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and rode the Kilimanjaro Safaris, let me summarize. You load onto a custom GMC truck and get prepared for a 2 week safari through the Harambe Reserve. It leaves the dock and you start with the forest, which have Okapi, Bongo, Black Rhino and the bloody Guineafowl. These Guineafowl were about the size of a chicken. And when you are sitting 10 feet up in a 40 foot long truck, they are very difficult to see. In the forest, the Guineafowl and the Bongo were the only ones free ranging. The Okapi, being very shy, were hiding in a back area behind a hidden fence. The Black Rhino chills across a river area. Then come the Hippo and Nile Crocodiles. After a bit of a hill and a waterfall, you are overlooking the Savannah. It is such a great view. In there are the Thompson Gazelle’s, Giraffe, Impala and Greater Kudu. Then a section with the Mandrill’s before the Elephants. After the elephants are Flamingos, a pair of White Rhinos (which are called White not because of their color, but in fact because their mouths are wide and the White comes from the Africaans word for wide, which was mis-interpreted as white), Cheetah, Lions and Ostrich. Then, we get word from a “tour guide” in the air that a baby elephant has been stolen! We have to go “save” Little Red. Upon crossing the last little cattle gate, we race along a switchback trail at a whole 5 mph to successfully capture the poachers! *whew*
After passing my recitation and driving test (let me tell you how fun it is to park those puppies!), I was a full driver and proceeded to drive for 4-6 10 hour days a week. As the days wore on, I made friends easily with the drivers. We were buddies. We would go to movies, the other parks, all sorts of things.
But I was having a hard time with the “home” part of life at Disney. Things had started to get dirty. My days started between 4:30 and 5am. Theirs all ended after 10pm. When they got home from their work days, they would all sit in the living area and talk to each other, using their loudest voices. If I went out to ask them to be quieter, they would tell me I was dreaming or hearing things. I received letters saying that no one wanted me there. I would get my food eaten and my items rummaged around in.
I took to staying with some friends that were in the apartment downstairs. I slept more often on their couch than in my bed. I had processed reports, but nothing good came of them until finally I requested to move. Finally, I received permission to change apartments, but would have to pay the fee. I said fine, anything to get me out of that situation.
During this time, I was also taking two online classes. We only had dial-up on the campus, so it took longer to do my work than I thought. One of my classes was a family psychology and sociology class, the other was Astronomy. Because of the dial-up issues, and the lack of understanding of the program that they used for the class (a program that a friend who had a doctorate in Physics and taught Astronomy didn’t understand), I didn’t get what was taught. I couldn’t drop the class though, because I would lose my financial aid. So I stayed with the class and just didn’t do any of the work. I knew I would get an F in the class, but would keep my financial aid. My GPA was a 3.6, so I wasn’t too worried.
Moving into the new apartment was a relief. I had some friends come over in the evening before everyone got home from work and we transported all my stuff into the new apartment across the way. I would be safe from the taunting and the torture.
Or so I thought.