When all was said and done, I learned a lot in Tanzania. I learned about the history of Ruaha (probably 15 times total), I learned some tips and hints – tricks of the trade – when it comes to searching for animals in the wild, and I learned how to do my laundry in a brown river.
Really though, I never thought that I would learn as much as I did, and if I have to be honest, I didn’t realize how much I had learned until I left and saw things from the outside. When I was there it was very easy to push things aside, but let me tell you, I had reverse culture shock when I finally landed in London. It really put things into perspective.
Some lessons I learned include:
– things on the clothesline better be secure or the dogs will think your panties are their chew toys
– always make sure you close the tent so rats don’t run over your body at night
– chili sauce is a necessity for every meal
– for that matter, so is 3 tablespoons of salt
– no matter how hard you try, diarrhea is inevitable
– solar panels can be used to charge your computer, phone, cameras, and ipods
– bread can be baked using charcoal
– that I will never eat a mango outside of East Africa again
I learned countless facts about animals, and I could now describe the meaning of many animal behaviours that I would never have known before. I also know now that Ruaha must be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It is what one dreams about when they imagine the African wilderness. It was dry, everything was golden. Animals were hungry and thirsty. It was harsh – I wouldn’t last more than 2 hours. I preferred the safety of the vehicle. The sun was huge, the wind was hot, and when the rain finally came, we all took our clothes off and danced in it.
Above all though, I learned about appreciation. The things I learned in India were just reinforced by the experiences I had in East Africa. That those with the least amount, are always the most generous. That those with nothing to share, share everything they can with their community. These community bonds are so strong and family support cannot be compared to anything you have ever known (unless of course, you are from rural Tanzania). Honesty is something to be rewarded, and everyday citizens won’t hesitate to take the law into their own hands when their own government has failed to provide this security.
The problems in East Africa are obviously very complicated, and I wouldn’t even attempt to explain them here. But what I do know is that despite these problems, Tanzania (Uganda and Kenya I didn’t have the privilege of staying as long) is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. The slow pace of life, the easy going nature of the people and the fact that much of their material wealth and opportunities are out of their control (weather, drought, disease) I’m sure all play a role (but again, I am just making observations). It seems that the less you have, the less you have to worry about.
Last September I did something I had been dreaming of doing forever…go on a safari! My experience in Tanzania was definitely a safari, in the true sense of the word. Safari is a Swahili word for trip (or in many cases, adventure), and it was truly the trip of a lifetime.
My adventure started last February, when I contacted a woman named Sarah about a possible research assistant position in Tanzania and it took off from there. I didn’t think I would ever make it there, but after much struggle, saving, arguments, begging and pleading in the months leading up to September, I finally boarded a plane and traveled halfway across the world. (Shoutout!!! I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of my family (Mom+Alan, Dad+Kelly, and Chelsea) or my amazing and supportive boyfriend Aman)
It would be impossible to summarize my experience into one blog post, or even ten, but I will do my best to give a good introduction. It is also impossible to describe the biology and issues in full detail, but important points are here!
Sarah has been a presence in Tanzania for a few years doing work in animal conservation, but has since started her own PhD. project on Human-Elephant Conflict near Ruaha National Park. The problem in this area of Tanzania is not that the elephant numbers are dwindling (Ruaha has one of the highest elephant populations in East Africa) but that the elephants and the humans that live around the park are at odds with one another. The park is surrounded by very rural, subsistence farming. This means that any damage to crops, whether how big or how small, is potentially detrimental to the farmers livelihood. If you know anything about elephants, it is probably that they are big, and they eat a lot! Therefore, a family of elephants that leaves the park to find food or water, and raids a farm, could very well eat the entire crop in one night. This doesn’t bode well for the farmer, or the farmers family, and therefore, doesn’t bode well for the elephants when the farmer catches them red-handed. Not to mention, running into a wild elephant can be insanely dangerous. Mitigating (or lessening) this conflict is a very important step in protecting not only the strong elephant population of Ruaha, but all the animals that live there.
Many of these farmers and villagers that live near Ruaha have never been into the park, have never learned or experienced the true value of the biological systems that are sitting there in their backyard. Parks have been set up to protect wildlife, but as a result, have restricted access to those most important in protecting it. Nobody has vehicles to go into the park. Therefore, to most of the locals, elephants and other animals are simply that – animals, sometimes pests, sometimes food. What Sarah is doing in Ruaha is taking these farmers and villagers into Ruaha National Park and showing them what thousands of travelers from all over the world come to see, and shes hoping that these experiences change how they feel about wildlife. She believes that educating the local people about wildlife and conservation biology will make them passionate about protecting these very valuable assets
I finally got to fulfill my dream of being a safari guide (even if it was only for a little while, and I wasn’t actually guiding, just coming along for the ride). For three months I went with Rowland (our amazing local guide) into the park, in a 20-year-old Land Rover packed with people (12 to be exact, or 14 when Mama’s brought their babies), and saw the most incredible and amazing animals, landscapes, sunsets, and sunrises I have ever seen.
Parts II and III to follow!