Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Tanzanian Safari ( From Acton to Arusha)

A Safari in Tanzania, Simultaneously One of the World's Poorest and Richest Countries

Ngorongoro Elephant                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

       If you told me a year ago that I would be flying to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania to begin an incredible adventure involving the Maasai, Africa's "Big Five"(Lions, Rhinos, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, and Leopards), I would have told you to check out the sad balance in my checkbook. Then I would have pointed to the three horses in my pasture responsible for this shortfall.

      However, my remarkable husband was asked by Harvard Alumni Tours to act as study leader on a trip to Tanzania.  How did an English professor, his specialty being 18th-century British  literature, get asked to escort a group of Harvard alums to a country whose  primary language is Swahili and whose body of literature is to this day mostly oral? Here I must brag: not only is Jim educated in the humanities, he is committed to the study of human affairs and devoted to the welfare and dignity of all.  This includes a deep and abiding concern for the environment and the ramifications of increasing climate disruption, particularly for those who are being, and will continue to be, affected the most.  Here are some of those whom I met in just such a place, the cradle of civilization, the birthplace of us all, sub-Saharan Africa: 

        I am getting ahead of myself, however.  To get to Tanzania we first flew to Schipol, Amsterdam's international airport.  From there we met up with the other Harvard alums and boarded a KLM jet to Kilimanjaro.  Though  a climb up to the sadly disappearing snow cap of the great mountain was not on our itinerary, judging from the hiking boots and backpacks on the plane, it certainly was for a number of our fellow passengers.  

      Once through customs we were met by Thomson Safari representatives who packed us into one minibus and drove us to an evening of respite and relaxation at the gorgeous Rivertrees Country Inn where Jim and I fell asleep in a beautiful African appointed cottage complete with billowy white mosquito netting.  The next morning I strolled the Arusha river banks because, purportedly, there were monkeys to be seen there. Sadly, however, not seen by me.  Apparently it was still too cool for them to seek out the river's water and shade.  So after a breakfast buffet of everything you can imagine, pastries, fresh fruit, omelettes, and crepes, it was back into the minibus and on to Arusha Airport.

       I learned that the highway we were on was being widened by the Chinese.  As many of you already know, the Chinese are in Africa in a big way.  They need its resources--minerals, metals, food from land leased or purchased, and precious stones.  While the Chinese are doing good works--roadwork, building hospitals--they are not training the Tanzanians to operate the equipment they have brought over, a characteristic of economic imperialism, that the Chinese themselves fell victim to in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  
       We all know that the Chinese are up to their ears in the illegal exotic animal trade, and while they maybe bumping up the Tanzanian economy with roads, hospitals, heavy machinery, and stethoscopes, they are putting at risk its budding ecotourism industry by decimating its wildlife, particularly elephants.  Chinese diplomats, it seems, have been packing their diplomatic pouches with ivory.  However, that is but one of their methods.
       I will write more in future entries on this ongoing war--and it is a war--against these magnificent animals, but do please read the articles below which will give you an idea as to the scope of its horror:



Arusha Airport                                                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

      At Arusha Airport our minibus was closely examined before we were allowed to pass through its chainlink gates.  A gentleman with a long stick with a mirror at the bottom scanned the undercarriage for possible bombs.  Once admitted it was on to having our documents, luggage, and carry-on items examined.  Unfortunately, we were held up due to another airline, KLM.  It seems that Royal Dutch Airlines gifted one of our tour members with two complementary, miniature, delft ceramic houses filled with liquor when he transited from his native Toronto to Amsterdam.

      I was confident that none of my fellow travelers were terrorist candidates, and if I had to choose the one least likely to have been radicalized, it would have been the sweet, mild mannered sixteen-year-old Canadian Liam, who happened to be the unfortunate recipient of an alcohol-filled delft ceramic that KLM gave its passengers.  Again and again, poor Liam was asked how he got these pieces and he was told--again and again--how this was not only illegal because of the alcohol, but that these little blue delft houses could be smashed by a potential evil doer, i.e. him, and turned into potential throat-slitting weapons. 

     Repeatedly Liam apologized for his non-mistake but this guard went on and on for nearly twenty minutes.   When you are jet-lagged, sleep deprived, and standing in the hot African sun, twenty minutes is a long, long time.  Finally, the man said he would let Liam and his delft houses go but only if the young man swore he had no criminal intentions.  If Liam did, in fact, have nefarious plans, the guard said that it would mean he, the guard, would lose his job.  Loss of a plane and loss of lives, i.e. ours, did not seem to be a concern.  Liam promised (yet again) that he would make no attempt to take over the airplane with shards of Dutch delft.  This time the security guard seemed to believe him.  Well, sort of.

    Finally, it was onto this: 

                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

       I don't much like flying in planes, much less ones having only one engine.  It's one of the reasons I joined the Navy rather than the Air Force.  (Here, I must admit that during my eleven years of service, I wound up spending more time in planes and helicopters than I ever did onboard ship.)  Additionally, I didn't find it in the least bit comforting to be told by our pilot Jose that we were likely to encounter considerable turbulence but that he would do his best to fly around it.

       Here we are leaving Tanzania's northern city of Arusha:

       In a few minutes we were here:

       Then here:

       And then here!

       And finally a hint, just a hint, of what was to come:

       At that time the turbulence could only be experienced visually--a large angry red spot on the radar.  In the end, pilot Jose managed to skirt around any rough weather and, after fifty minutes, we began our descent, finally landing on a grass runway that could only be identified as such by two parallel lines of rocks and a fully employed windsock.  There we met our highly knowledgeable wonderful Thomson safari guides, Abu, Ojouku, and Freddie.  In retrospect, I cannot imagine a safari without them:

          After our luggage was loaded into our three Land Rovers, it was onto our Eastern Serengeti Nyumba ("Nyumba" is Swahili for home) set on the slopes of the Moruga Hill which, until less than a decade ago, had been leased to a brewing company to raise barley.  Fortunately, the Tanzanian government decided it was in the best interests of its people and ecosystem to let Thomson Safari take it over.   This has allowed it to revert to open plains and wooded savannas.

       On the hour-long drive our first animal life were cattle, goats, sheep, and donkeys belonging to the Maasai :

       These donkeys had ample pasture but they ambled down here to lick salt:

        All the livestock I saw at our first nyumba, indeed, spent their days grazing in large open fields of grass.  I'm sure  the feedlot cows in the U.S. would happily exchange places with these animals.  That is,  perhaps with the exception of these two oxen.  Our guide said they were being trained Maasai-style, "to become friends."

             In a short while these two will pull a cart together, and this is how they become habituated to each other's company.  It is an effective way to ensure they are pair bonded.  Still, I think they look rather forlorn.

       Soon the domestic animals gave way to wild:

      Zebra, wildebeest (I knew them as gnu growing up), and a giraffe!  Then the delicate, elegant Grant's gazelles.

Grant's Gazelles                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       After a delicious dinner with the other guests, Jim and I retired to our luxurious tent, making sure all our belongings were inside.  We had been told that hyenas and baboons happily carry off anything and everything they can get their mouths and hands around:

Thomson Ten                                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2016

                The next day the magic really began.  I also tested the applicability of Natural Horsemanship on some local giraffes.  Stay tuned.

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.  See you soon --   Ainslie 





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