Tanja Cilia

Freelance Writer

Symbiosis: Beneficial Friendships



tanjaciliaIn my school days, I had tracing paper and carbon paper to help me draw, but the former set my teeth on edge and the latter made me sneeze. Nowadays, I still can’t draw a creditable amoeba.

One homework assignment I remember particularly well involved creating and dividing an exercise book into three, width-wise.

The top part had to contain heads of creatures, the middle section was for bodies, and the bottom part was for legs, tails, or both. The idea was that we could create an (almost) infinite number of weird and wonderful creatures, naming them by using syllables from the animals’ names.

Some real animals, like the platypus, the star-nosed mole, and the aye-aye appear to have escaped from the pages of my scrapbook.

Doesn’t an animal with the head of an ox, the horns of a buffalo and the mane of a horse belong in the realms of fantasy? Actually, this one does exist; it’s the wildebeest.

Anyone who has seen the magnificent migration procession of this animal from Masai Mara to Serengeti will notice that these animals usually travel with substantial herds of zebras.  There are several reasons for this.

Zebras have a very poor sense of smell, but excellent eyesight and hearing. So they can sound the alarm as lions or hyenas approach. With wildebeests, it’s the opposite. So the animals trek together, and they are covered on all three sensory fronts, by making full use of the talents of either group.

This union is also favourable to both droves of beasts when it comes to obtaining food and drink, which are after all, the primary reasons for the voyage. The constitution of wildebeests necessitates their drinking at least every two days, and luckily they have a heightened sense of scenting water. This is a benefit to zebras in the dry Serengeti.

Wildebeests and zebras look as different as chalk and cheese.  One is bulky, ungainly and muddy-coloured; the other is sleek and has a designer pelt.  And yet, they have found the secret of co-existing peacefully. Without knowing of the word, they have developed symbiosis – a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

I think of my childhood friends with whom I am still in touch, and marvel at the empathy, solidarity and synergy amongst us… because we make them happen. Dependable Emma who would cut her hair short if I had alopecia (hair loss); athletic Simone who’d take off her loafers because my stilettos hurt me; fashion-plate Helga who would leave the party early if I was tired; Earth-mother Susan who’d miss a boat-trip to visit me in the hospital;  world-famous artiste Stella who’d clean my dirty laundry if my machine broke. I reciprocate as needed.

We have lived, loved, laughed and cried together, and prayed with and for one another.

Our friendship has withstood the test of time. Acquaintances come and go, but friends with whom you give-and take, without counting the cost, remain forever.  When you are blessed with a true friend, treasure her.


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Tanja Cilia

Freelance Writer

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