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Safari

Safari Epilogue

Being home now and looking over what I posted, I realize it was a very forensic overview of the animals I saw and not much on what the experience meant for me or my interactions with the people of Tanzania.

To be honest, other than the safari guides and the staff at the lodges and camps, I did not interact with the locals very much. The notable exceptions were my excursions to the Darajani Marketplace in Stone Town, Zanzibar and the local gallery in Karatu. In both cases the interaction was between local merchants and their source of potential revenue. In both cases I was subject to high pressure sales and I do not feel that this in any way acquainted me with local culture.

I did have a nice conversation in the cab on the way to Darajani Marketplace. The cab driver asked me if it was OK for a local woman to hitch a ride (we are talking an hour and 20 minute drive) as she needed to go to the ferry terminal near the marketplace. I was fine with that, and in fact was more than happy to help out. The woman was very grateful as otherwise she would have had to walk the long distance to the public bus stop and take a bus that would have taken twice as long as the taxi ride. One thing I did get from my interaction with the locals is that Tanzania does have a culture where they help each other, similar to the aloha spirit in Hawaii. The woman did tell me she was surprised when I agreed to let her hitch a ride, so I told her about aloha and how it seemed Tanzania had a similar culture, so it was my pleasure to help another person in need when I am able to do so. Beyond that we did have a nice conversation about life in Tanzania, tourism, the rich/poor divide, etc.

One thing that was told to me by a couple of my guides and the parties in the taxi ride above is that Tanzania is a peaceful country, lacking the tribal warfare that pervades so many African nations. There is no stigma, for instance, for a Maasai to marry a Chagga, as was the case with my first guide who was Maasai. There are about 121 tribes in Tanzania, so it is pretty impressive that they coexist in peace. The US could learn at least that from Tanzania.

As for my feelings during the safari drives: there were moments where I teared up with joy at being in the presence of such beautiful and magnificent creatures. Once the camera was down and I could just sit back and enjoy just being there, I would become overwhelmed with awe at the natural world and the amazing animals natural selection has wrought. The balance between predator and prey, life and death.

It also made me sad and angry that still to this day there are those out there who would shoot and kill these animals merely for trophy and sport. I was told that poaching was no longer an issue in Tanzania, as the poachers have mainly been moved into the tourism sector where their duty is to protect the animals they once hunted for profit. The government of Tanzania, realizing that safari tourism is a sustainable and profitable industry, started offering park jobs to the poachers where they made as much or more as they did poaching, killing the incentive to kill. When we first spotted that elephant carcass with the tusks missing, my first thought was that poachers were responsible and I asked the guide, but he said “no, I think the elephant died of natural causes and the rangers then take the tusks.” I did not question this at the time, and he later said that the rangers confirmed that they had taken the tusks, but I wonder why the rangers would take the tusks? Was this just a story told to tourists so that they believe Tanzania has triumphed over poachers where other nations have failed? I really don’t know.

The Tanzanian government is not known for its honesty, especially under the recently deceased president Magufuli who denied there was any COVID in Tanzania. There was a couple who worked for the US State Department in Dar es Salaam, staying at one of the camps I was in, who said that there was COVID in Tanzania, and it was bad. Hospitals were at capacity and turning people away, and that doctors had to mark all COVID cases as pneumonia. And President Magufuli was said to have died of, not ironically, pneumonia. Apparently it is widely accepted that Magufuli died of COVID. I guess the man who said “we prayed COVID away” was not sufficiently repentant in his prayers? </sarcasm> The new president, Samia Suluhu, Tanzania’s first female president, is being more reasonable and is enacting and enforcing some COVID protocols around travel to and from the country. I don’t believe she has released any true numbers, or any data at all, about COVID’s impact on the people of Tanzania.

However I do have to say that the guides and staff at the lodges and camp’s were very “COVID sensitive” for lack of better words. They were always wearing masks indoors and had hand sanitizer at the ready at all times. The camp owners also required staff to quarantine for 2 weeks at the camp before they started working.

I did have one guide express that he “had heard that covid was a media hoax.” I told him I did not agree and that it would be amazing for the media of almost all countries of the world to all be in on the same hoax. Thus the simplest explanation is that COVID is real, that it has killed millions and hospitalized millions more. Anything else requires massive stretches of the imagination.

But I digress…

The experience on the whole was easily the most exciting, wondrous, and exhilarating experience of my life. And there has been some stiff competition for that top spot. My first scuba dive in Jamaica, swimming with a humpback whale or dolphins, diving submerged lava tubes on the Big Island of Hawaii, skydiving, flying an airplane, or working with and watching the likes of Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and David Bowie create and record their music, to name a few. There is something about looking into the eyes of a lion, and feeling them look back at you, that is humbling and invigorating at the same time. Or seeing the sleek cheetah with its cubs playing, practicing to be the fastest land mammal on the planet. Being face to face with an elephant, knowing it could charge and crush you if it so pleased. Falling asleep under the Serengeti night sky, with its brilliant stars, and ostriches, lions and hyenas singing lullabies.

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