'Friends in High Places' | Ep. 165

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about someone you consider a good friend. If this person were in trouble, how far would you go to help them out?

We’re about to meet a character who goes to great lengths to help her friends – quite literally!

Our story is called “Friends in High Places.” It was inspired by tales told in eastern and southern Africa.

Voices in this episode include Erika Rose, Dawn Ursula, Denise Crosby, and Mario Cantone. Denise Crosby has starred in such television shows as Ray Donovan, Suits, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mario Cantone most recently starred in And Just Like That. You kids may recognize Mario’s voice from the animated film Surf’s Up.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

What’s one thing you can do to be a good friend? Maybe you can let one of your pals borrow a book or toy. Maybe you can make them a special birthday card. Or perhaps you can just give them a hug when they’re feeling sad and blue.

Think about what you can do… then go out and do it! You’re guaranteed to make your friend’s day – and you’ll feel good, too.

Musical Spotlight: The Balafon 

Eric Shimelonis playing the balafon, an African idiophone: i.e. an instrument which creates sound by vibrating.
Eric Shimelonis playing the balafon, an African idiophone: i.e. an instrument which creates sound by vibrating.

Originally from West Africa, the balafon (a.k.a. bala or balphone) is the ancestor of the marimba, xylophone and vibraphone. This tuned percussion instrument usually has 16 to 27 keys made of very hard wood. Beneath the keys are small gourds which vibrate and buzz to create a distinctive sound that’s both percussive and melodic.


NARRATOR: In another time… long, long ago… there came a summer when the rain ceased to fall. A horrible drought spread across the land, withering the grasses, shriveling the bushes, and drying up the waterholes one by one by one.

This “other time, long, long ago” was well before people appeared on earth. Back in those days it was just the animals. And as the drought dragged on, the animals were getting hungrier and thirstier under the sizzling sun. Among those hungry, thirsty animals were two best friends: Rhinoceros and Giraffe.

RHINO: Okay, Giraffe, this is getting ridiculous. The two of us have been wandering the plains all morning, looking for something to eat or drink, but we might as well face it! We’re either going to starve or dehydrate! If not both!

GIRAFFE: I know things aren’t looking so good, Rhino. But I say we don’t give up! If we keep walking just a little bit longer, who knows what we’ll find?

RHINO: “Who knows what we’ll find”?!? I know what we’ll find! Nothing! Zilch! Zero! Look, Giraffe. The grass is dead, the bushes are dying, and when’s the last time you saw a waterhole that actually had cool, drinkable water – (interrupts himself as he feels tick biting him) Agh!

GIRAFFE: Let me guess. Another tick bite?

RHINO: Yeah! Another tick bite! Those parasites are the only ones around here who aren’t starving! Because they’re making a meal out of – (another unexpected bite) Ahgh! – (finishing his sentence) … out of me!

GIRAFFE: You’re not the only one, Rhino. With this dense tan and white fur of mine, I get my share of tick bites, too.

RHINO: Yeah… but I get it worse! And I don't even have fur! (beat) I tell ya. Ticks… Droughts… Could this summer get any worse?

GIRAFFE: At least we have each other!

RHINO: Yeah. We do. But listen, Giraffe. I gotta get home. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since this drought began; I’ve been too hungry and thirsty to get any shuteye! So I’m gonna go take a much-needed – (as tick bites him) Aghhh!…A much-needed nap.

NARRATOR: But just as Rhino turned to go…

GIRAFFE: Rhino! Wait! Look over there!

RHINO: Look over where?!

GIRAFFE: Over there! Those trees! Their canopy – their topmost branches – they’re covered with tender green leaves! Leaves we could eat! (Sigh) If only we could reach that high.

NARRATOR: Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. Of course Rhino can’t reach the top of the tree. His wrinkly body isn’t tall enough.

But what about Giraffe? Don’t giraffes have those long graceful necks and long spindly legs?

Well, remember: our story takes place “In another time… long, long ago”! And back in that “other time,” Giraffe did not have a long neck or long legs. Her neck and legs were all short and stumpy.

GIRAFFE: Gosh, Rhino! Can you imagine? Being tall enough to just stride on over to those beautiful trees and start gobbling up tender green leaf after tender green leaf?

RHINO: That would be amazing, Giraffe! But it’ll never happen. Not without working some sort of magic, anyway... A-HA!

GIRAFFE: Let me guess. Another tick bite…?

RHINO: No! An idea! Why didn’t I think of this earlier?!? You and I will work some magic!

GIRAFFE: “Magic”…?!? But how?

RHINO: It’s simple! We’ll go see… Hyena!

NARRATOR: Hyena was a wise, crafty creature who, in those long-ago days, possessed magical powers. So Giraffe and Rhino summoned their strength and set off across the dusty plains to find her.

After walking all day, they reached Hyena’s den. When they told her how they wished they could be tall enough to reach the tops of the beautiful green trees, the wise creature smiled a knowing smile.

HYENA: Ah, yes! The acacia trees! Amazing, aren’t they? Acacias are very hardy. They can survive even the driest conditions!

RHINO: But can you make us tall enough to reach their leaves, Hyena?

GIRAFFE: Is such a thing even possible?

HYENA: Actually… it is. I just need to collect some special ingredients: magical herbs that will make whoever eats them grow nice and tall. Given the drought, the herbs will take a while to track down, however. So how about you come back tomorrow? Be sure to arrive at noon, on the dot – when the sun takes its highest seat in the sky!

NARRATOR: So, with hope in their hearts – if not food or water in their bellies – Rhino and Giraffe headed back to their part of the plains.

RHINO: Am I a genius or what, Giraffe? Like I said, you and I are going to work some magic!

GIRAFFE: We just have to make sure we get to Hyena’s on time. How about I stay with you tonight, then we head back to her den together?

RHINO: Nah, I don’t think so, Giraffe. I need to snooze. If you sleep over we’ll stay up all night gabbing… and gossiping… you know how it goes. I’ll just meet you tomorrow at noon.

GIRAFFE: Very well. See you then!

NARRATOR: But the next day, come noon, on the dot…

HYENA: Giraffe! Welcome back! Where’s Rhino?

GIRAFFE: I don’t know, Hyena! I woke before sunrise so I could get here on time. I’m sure Rhino will be here any minute.

HYENA: But the magical herbs only work when the sun takes its highest seat in the sky! So here! Eat the herbs now!

NARRATOR: So Giraffe gulped the herbs down in one bite.


NARRATOR: At first, she felt nothing. But then…

GIRAFFE: (feeling tingling sensation) Oooooo!

NARRATOR: … there was a tingling sensation in her neck!


NARRATOR: …and her legs!


NARRATOR: And next thing she knew, both her neck and legs were getting longer and longer! And the ground was getting farther and farther away!

GIRAFFE: Whoa! Whoa! Whooaaaa!

NARRATOR: Before she knew it, her head was way high up in the sky!

GIRAFFE: Look at me! I’m so tall, I can see for miles! And there are the acacia trees! With plenty of tender, green leaves on top! Thank you, Hyena!

HYENA: You’re most welcome, Giraffe. From now on, you will be the tallest animal on earth!

NARRATOR: Without missing a beat, Giraffe took off toward the acacia trees. Her stride was long and graceful – and fast! She reached the trees in seconds flat, and plunged her head into their green canopy so she could gobble up leaf after leaf.

GIRAFFE: (Munching leaves as she speaks) Mmmm! These leaves are so tender! So juicy! I can hardly get –

RHINO: (as if being bitten by tick) Aaaaaagh!

NARRATOR: Giraffe stopped eating and swung her long, graceful neck down toward the ground. And who should she see standing at the foot of the acacia tree, fighting off yet another tick… but Rhino!

GIRAFFE: Let me guess. Another tick bite.

RHINO: Yes, another tick bite! But it wasn’t nearly as painful as what you did to me today! Eating the magic herbs?!? Going to see Hyena? Without me? What happened to “at least we have each other”? I thought we were best friends!

GIRAFFE: We are best friends, Rhino! And we do have each other! But the magic herbs only work at noon, and you said you needed your sleep, so I figured I would just –

RHINO: I did need my sleep! And I got my sleep! Unfortunately, I got a little too much. And slept in. And missed Hyena’s noon-on-the-dot deadline. And now, look at you!!! You’re all tall and lofty and munching acacia trees, and I’m down here, in this dry, dusty grass, fighting off – (bitten again) Aaaaaagh! …fighting off ticks and trying to ignore the rumbling in my belly!

GIRAFFE: I’m sorry, Rhino. I'll gladly get you some leaves from this tree if you – (interrupts herself as she detects smell) Hang on a second! (sniffs a few times) What’s that smell?

RHINO: Smell?!? I don’t smell any – (sniffs a few times) Oh wow! Yeah, I do! It smells like – (sniffs a few times) – like fire! Like something’s burning!

NARRATOR: Giraffe swung her head back up toward the sky. As she peered toward the horizon, her big, soft eyes caught sight of a bushfire sweeping across the plains!

GIRAFFE: Oh no! The sizzling hot sun must have started a fire on the dry, dusty plains! What should we do?!?

RHINO: Well, I can think of one thing... RUUUUUNNN!!!!!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Rhino's on the run... but what do you think Giraffe will do next?
We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Friends in High Places.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, Giraffe reported to Hyena’s den at noon on the dot and ate magical herbs that made her grow taller. Her best friend, Rhinoceros, slept in and missed his chance.

Not long after, a bushfire came raging across the dry and dusty plains and Rhino hurried away.

RHINO: Gahhhhhhh!

NARRATOR: Giraffe was about to skedaddle too when all of a sudden, her keen ears picked up…

[SOT: young oxpeckers screeching, continues below the following]

NARRATOR: …an unexpected sound!

GIRAFFE: Birds! Screeching birds! They sound young! And helpless! And close!

NARRATOR: Other animals were racing past Giraffe, all trying to outrun the approaching flames as the air filled with smoke. But Giraffe didn’t stray from the acacia tree.

GIRAFFE: I think the sound is coming from this tree! But where? There aren’t any birds nesting up here in the canopy! I’ll look lower.

NARRATOR: Giraffe swung her neck down to the tree’s trunk. Toward the top of the trunk she found a hole. And inside the hole she found a nest full of newly-hatched oxpeckers!

Oxpeckers are little brown birds with yellow-ringed eyes and bright red beaks. They love to eat ticks, and they tend to build their nests not on tree branches, but inside tree holes.

GIRAFFE: Look at you tiny little ones! All alone in your nest! Where’s your mother? Well, no matter. I’m going to save you. Hang on tight!

NARRATOR: Ever so delicately, Giraffe put the nest in her mouth and took off across the plains. She raced like the wind, her long, spindly legs loping faster and faster until she came to a baobab tree, this one far away from the smoke and flames. Luckily, this tree had a hole in its trunk, too!

Carefully, Giraffe placed the oxpeckers’ nest inside the hole.

GIRAFFE: There you go, little ones. Now we just need to find your mother and –

[SOT: thunderclap]

NARRATOR: Giraffe was interrupted by a sound that no one in the land had heard for months: a clap of thunder! And just like that…

[SOT: rain]

NARRATOR: Torrents of rain began pouring from the sky, drenching the earth… and snuffing out the flames.

[SOT: water snuffing out fire]

GIRAFFE: Do you see that, little ones? That… is rain! Something you kids have never seen before!

OXPECKER: …And something we grown-ups haven’t seen in a very long time!

NARRATOR: Giraffe swung her neck around. Soaring through the raindrops was none other than the oxpeckers’ mother! The brown bird swooped her way onto the nest and immediately began stuffing her babies’ wide-open beaks with food.

OXPECKER: My darlings! I knew you were hungry so I went out and gathered these yummy ticks for you! Then the fires broke out and I was so worried! I’m glad I found you!

GIRAFFE: I’m glad, too!

NARRATOR: Oxpecker turned her yellow-ringed eyes toward Giraffe.

OXPECKER: Giraffe!?!?? I hardly recognized you, you’ve grown so tall! But you saved my children! …Tell me! How can I repay you?

GIRAFFE: Repay me?! Oh, that won’t be necessary.

OXPECKER: But I insist! Ask for anything, anything at all, and it’s yours.

NARRATOR: Giraffe cocked her head.

GIRAFFE: Honestly, I don’t know what I could possibly ask for! I’ve got my brand new magnificent height. I’ve got all this rain nourishing the earth, so the grasses, bushes and waterholes will spring to life again! (Distracted) Man! Your babies really are going to town on those ticks!

OXPECKER: What can I say? They love eating ticks! All of us oxpeckers do!

GIRAFFE: Clearly! Anyway… as I was saying… I’ve got everything I need. Come to think of it, the only thing that’s missing is my best friend, Rhino. He’s mad at me – really mad – and I don’t know if we’ll ever make up.

OXPECKER: I’m sorry to hear it. I wish there was something I could do to help!

NARRATOR: Giraffe heaved a sigh as she thought about her funny, sleepy, tick-fighting friend. And it was then – as she watched those baby birds guzzle down their ticks – that it came to her!


NARRATOR: Suddenly, she knew exactly how the oxpecker could repay her… and how she could make her best friend happy again.

GIRAFFE: Oxpecker? I’ll be right back!

NARRATOR: Giraffe charged across the plains, keeping her eyes peeled for Rhino. And as she approached a waterhole that was rapidly filling up with cool, clear rainwater, she heard a familiar voice.

RHINO: (slurping up water) Mmmm! Finally! A real drink! I was so thirsty I could have drunk a – (gets bit) Aaaaaagh!…drunk a water bug!

GIRAFFE: Let me guess.

NARRATOR: Giraffe flashed Rhino a smile.

GIRAFFE: …Another tick bite?

NARRATOR: Rhino craned his neck up. Way up.

RHINO: Giraffe! What do you want?

GIRAFFE: To make amends with an old pal. Please. Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet.

NARRATOR: Giraffe led Rhino to the baobab tree, where Oxpecker had finally finished feeding her babies their feast of ticks.

GIRAFFE: Oxpecker, this is Rhino. Rhino has a bit of a…

RHINO: (gets bit) Aaaaagh! Not another one!

GIRAFFE: …a bit of a tick issue. And Rhino, this is Oxpecker. Oxpecker has a bit of a… tick appetite. I was thinking the two of you can work something out…?

NARRATOR: Rhino looked at Oxpecker. Oxpecker looked at Rhino. Then they both looked at Giraffe, their faces glowing with gratitude.

RHINO: Ya know, I think we can work something – (gets bit) Aaaaagh!

OXPECKER: Hang on! Allow me! (eats tick) Mmmm! That was a juicy one.

NARRATOR: After that, Rhino lived blissfully tick-free. Oxpecker became his constant companion, riding atop his wrinkly body, picking off ticks and other pesky parasites and gobbling them up.

And so it is to this day. Go to the African bush and you’ll witness it for yourself: little brown birds with yellow-ringed eyes and bright red beaks, riding on top of rhinos. Sometimes the birds ride on giraffes, too, as the long-necked creatures eat acacia leaves to their heart’s content… with their heads held high.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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