Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NOTES FROM TANZANIA: What I learned in a third-world country

Mt. Kilimanjaro as seen from the city of Moshi.
(skip this and go to “What I Learned,” below, if you're short on time)

    I recently spent three weeks in Tanzania. For those of you who, like me, are geographically challenged, Tanzania is a country of 41 million people on the east coast of Africa, just south of the equator, below Kenya, above Mozambique, and east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tanzania is a stable country, free of civil wars. It is a third-world country, so called—its per-capita income is about $40 per month—but its people are not, for the most part, starving or naked or cold. It does have a fairly high incidence of malaria, Q fever, tuberculosis, and AIDS, and, as a result, a goodly number of widows and orphans. Go to this web site for the U.S. State Department’s description of Tanzania . Compared to most other African countries, Tanzania is a safe place to visit.
     I went to Tanzania to work for two weeks and to go on safari with my son and daughter-in-law for one week thereafter. My work was teaching. I am part of a program designed to provide educational services to medical students at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, which is a city in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the northern interior of the country. Duke University has a grant to help provide these educational services. One of the goals of the grant is to improve the English-writing skills of Tanzanian medical students, whose studies are in English and whose national language of government is English. (Swahili is the spoken and written language of the general population.) Duke has subcontracted out this English-teaching part of the grant to some of us affiliated with the English Department at Virginia Tech.
     So I went to Tanzania as an English teacher. For two weeks, my colleague Jane Wemhoener, who directs the Virginia Tech part of the program, and I met with first-year medical students and ran a few classes on English writing. For the next four years, we will try to teach these students how to improve their writing in English via email while we’re here in the United States, but we wanted to introduce them to the program in person. That’s why we went to Moshi.
     On this blog post, I will share my impressions of, and some of my experiences in, Tanzania. My friends and family have asked me to do this.
      First, however, a few words about tourism:
      It is easy to visit a “third-world” country like Tanzania with the wrong attitude. It is wrong, I believe, to pass judgment or make comparisons on such a trip—to say, for example, that “their” way of doing things is better or worse than “ours” or that their children are cuter or their landscapes more majestic, or less cute or less majestic, than ours. It is wrong to treat a safari in the Serengeti like a visit to a zoo, in which you merely ooh and aah over the elephants and lions. It is wrong to treat a Maasai village and its dancers like an exhibit at Disneyland, there to entertain you with their “quaintness.” You shouldn’t go to a place like Tanzania to be amused or to feel superior (or, in the case of some people I know, to feel inferior) or to check certain animals off your list. 

Like kids everywhere, Tanzanian kids are beautiful.

      It’s hard to find the right attitude when you’re a tourist, anywhere. I struggled with my own tendency to declare Tanzanian children cuter than those elsewhere, for example, even though they do have wonderful, illuminated smiles. I have traveled just enough to know that children everywhere are damned cute. The children in China, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Japan are terrifically cute. But so are American kids. When I was in Beijing with my 12-year-old son many years ago, people would stop us on the street and say, “He your son? He beeeeeautiful!”
     And I struggled with my own tendency either to pity or to over-admire Tanzanian women who walk 15 miles with 40 pounds of bananas on their heads (no hands) to get to Saturday market.
     And I certainly struggled with my tendency to pass judgment on Maasai men, who, by my lights, practice all kinds of abusive sexism.
     I worried, for a time, that I was a voyeur in Tanzania, using the people and the landscape there as nothing more than a reality television show. This was especially true when I was in a huge Land Cruiser gaping out the window at the lions in Ngorongoro Crater or gaping at the tomato sellers in the roadside vegetable markets or gaping at the children herding cattle and goats by the sides of the roads. I didn’t want to be a voyeur. I knew, however, that not all travelers are voyeurs, and not all tourism is voyeuristic. One can, I reminded myself, gaze without gaping.
      Anyway, I believe the key to being a pure, moral traveler is this: Travel to learn and to experience. That’s all: just to learn and to experience. Leave aside all judgments, moral or aesthetic or political. Leave aside the idea that what you see is there for your amusement or for you to check off on some list so you can brag to your friends later. Instead, think of what you see as making you a somehow larger human being. That’s what all good learning is. If you remember that you are a small, unfinished person and have lots to learn, perhaps you’ll approach tourism with the proper humility, and you’ll show the people and landscapes that you see the proper respect.

A typical Tanzanian road.

What I Learned, What I Experienced

      Anyway, here are some of the things that happened and some of the things I learned in Tanzania, in more or less the order I learned them:
      The road from Kilimanjaro Airport to Moshi is one lane in each direction, paved, utterly dark at night, snakes crossing in the headlights, with bone-jarring speed bumps every two miles or so to keep cars from speeding. This was the best road we traveled. Almost all other roads were unpaved and rather spectacularly bumpy, often with rocks sticking straight up three or four inches, everywhere. I wouldn’t take my Subaru Impreza on 98% of Tanzania’s roads.
      On the outskirts of Moshi, as we drove in the dark on the way in from the airport after our arrival, we hit a traffic jam, which is nearly unheard of at night outside of cities in Tanzania. Turns out there had been an accident in the road ahead, and the citizens of the village where the accident occurred had come out to demonstrate loudly against the poor road-safety conditions. The police were called. Shots were fired (in the air, we think). People ran away past us in the dark by the side of the road. This was our welcome to Tanzania.
      Tanzania has some good beer. Kilimanjaro and Tusker brands were my favorites. At roadsides, we often saw grain spread out on cloth on the ground to dry, being prepared for locally made beer. We were warned not to drink the locally made beer.
      Our luggage arrived intact, but one our housemates had tried to bring in 16 pairs of running shoes for children at an orphanage in Moshi. Eight pairs of those shoes had been stolen from her luggage in transit. Half of Jane’s Power Bars had also been stolen from her luggage. Theft from luggage at the airports in Tanzania—esp. of things like running shoes—is common. We also tried to mail 150 copies of a soft-cover book to our Tanzanian students. To this day, four months later, they are still being held by Tanzanian customs agents. The implication is that someone needs to pay a bribe to have them freed.
      I went to a Lutheran church service in Moshi. There was a wonderful 12-person choir, with very distinctive African harmonies. The sermon was long and almost entirely in Swahili, except for these English phrases: “Guilty or innocent!” and “Sliding down to hell!” We English-speakers did not take this personally. In the middle of the sermon by the very serious preacher, a little boy wandered in, walked up to the preacher as he was preaching, and asked for something. The preacher stopped, smiled, and handed the boy a basket. He then explained (in English) that the boy needed the basket for the offering in his Sunday school class. During the entire church service, two live chickens, wrapped in cloth and well behaved, were on the church floor. These later proved to be the offerings of certain parishioners. 

With the help of an ngata, a Tanzanian woman can carry almost anything on her head.

     Tanzanian women carry all sorts of things on their heads: big jugs of water, large bags of rice, giant bunches of bananas, tied-up piles of kindling wood. They are aided by something called an ngata—a kind of cloth donut made by twisting a rag and tying its ends together. This goes between the head and what’s being carried and kind of flattens out the system. Simple and ingenious. One cannot buy an ngata; it is too simple to make one oneself, out of a rag. People laugh when you ask to buy one.
     The main paved roads in Moshi and Arusha (a nearby, bigger city) are teeming with pedestrians, bicyclists, van-buses (packed, literally, to overflowing with riders, their heads sticking out the windows), taxis, and thousands of cheap Chinese motorcycles called piki-pikis. The driving is very, shall we say, aggressive. Only those vicious speed bumps keep the velocities sane. The bicycles look like WWII-era one-speed English racers.
      A dollar is worth 1,760 Tanzanian shillings, which usually come in the form of very old, dirty, worn bills. (Theory: You can judge the state of a country’s economy by the age of its still-circulating bills.) You can buy a 16-oz. Coke with a threadbare thousand-shilling bill and get change in return. A huge rice-and-beans lunch with a Coke runs about 2,500 shillings ($1.50).
      “Hapana” means “no” in Swahili. “Asante” means “thank you.” “Hapana, asante” is what you say to the many Tanzanians who beg you for money or try to sell you something on the street, which they will do rather doggedly, especially the young men. Sometimes you have to say “Hapana, asante” rather doggedly.
      For less than a dollar, you can get a wonderful avocado as big as a grapefruit in Moshi, picked to just the right ripeness by an old lady at an open market. If you plan to eat it tonight, you get a riper avocado than if you plan to save it for tomorrow—avocados custom-chosen for ripeness. The guacamole from the avocados is phenomenally good.
     Although you have to take malaria prevention pills before, during, and after going to Tanzania, it turns out that, according to the research at the medical center where I was, in this part of the country at least, Q fever is more common by far than malaria. Q fever has symptoms similar to malaria. You don’t have to take Q fever pills to visit Tanzania.
     The European, English, and American expatriots living in Moshi periodically enjoy something called a “hash.” This is a run/walk/jog over many miles through the countryside, with planned stops to drink primarily alcohol at manmade oases created by whoever is in charge of that particular hash. I learned that this “sport” is practiced all over the English-speaking world. I had never heard of a hash.
     Across the unpaved street from the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre hospital is a shanty-shop strip mall—tiny, slapped-together shops with tin roofs and abundant Coca Cola signs, all shoulder-to-shoulder. Here there are small bars, vegetable shops, cloth shops, shoe shops and so on. There are also at least five shops that sell only caskets, their wares on display to the street. Again, this is right across the street from the hospital, where many people die of AIDS, tuberculosis, and other such diseases. We’re told that so many caskets are made and sold in Tanzania that the industry is a major contributor to deforestation. (I don’t know if this is true or just a rumor. The forests in Tanzania still seem plenty lush.)

Tanzanian markets have an abundance of gorgeous fruits and vegetables.

    At a small vegetable market in Moshi, I bought lots of fruit and vegetables: mangos, pineapple, passion fruit, avocados, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes. I thought the man selling the food said my purchase cost 80,000 Tanzanian shillings. I began to hand him that. He was shocked. He said I owed him 8,000 Tanzanian shillings. That’s about $4.25. Very embarrassing. I wouldn’t have thought twice about paying $40 for that much food.
      Tanzania grows lots of kinds of bananas. My favorites were the little ones, about 5 inches long. Dense and sweet.
      The electric power goes out occasionally in Moshi and other cities, for anywhere from 15 minutes to ten hours, randomly.
      It was difficult to go jogging on the rocky clay roads and paths of Moshi, but I tried one evening, with one of our housemates. We went on a back path through maize fields. Children followed, laughing and pointing. We were “wazungu”—crazy white people. (“Mzungu” is one crazy white person.) The path went past houses and impromptu bars selling “mbili”— the undrinkable (by wazungu) local homemade beer. There was, I was told, one tennis court in Moshi, at a private school. I didn’t play tennis there. The one attempt at jogging was my only exercise, other than walking 1 1/2 miles to and from our office each morning.
      It’s difficult to know what to call someone in Tanzania. First names, tribal names, and family names are all mixed up, and sometimes a family name (like “Joseph”) sounds like a first name, and sometimes people call themselves by different names depending on whom they’re with. We had a very hard time keeping our students straight, and how do you alphabetize when you don’t know which name is which?
     Internet connections are slow and spotty even in a major city like Moshi, but they do exist.
     Kilimanjaro is a majestic but modest mountain, almost always clothed in clouds. We got to see the snows on top only twice, for a few minutes.
     The meat in Tanzania is generally tough and gristly, but tasty. The cows and goats are scrawny. Ordinary American cattle are almost twice as big as Tanzanian cattle. The goat sausage called mitura, though tough to chew, is one of the tastiest meat dishes I’ve ever had.
     First-year Tanzanian medical students speak so softly you have to stand within two feet of them to understand what they’re saying. Third- and fourth-year students speak up a bit more.
     About a third of the Tanzanian medical students were women. About a fifth of all the students were Muslim. Most were very fervent Christians. Many end their writing assignments by saying “May God bless me” or some variation thereof.
      Young Tanzanian men—including medical students—shake hands rap style, with several shifting grips that I couldn’t keep up with.
An African pied crow, common in Tanzania.

      Tanzanian crows have yellow vests.
      Tanzanians almost unanimously love to dance and sing. This is not stereotyping; it is, according to my students, simply true.
      The temperature in Moshi in November tops out at about 85 degrees. Very pleasant. November and December make up the smaller of the two rainy seasons. The more popular tourist season is the dry season, in late summer, when the herds of animals migrate to water holes.
      Bargaining is expected by cab drivers and most shops. If the cabbie asks 8,000 shillings to take you somewhere, you can probably get him down to 5,000 or 6,000.
      Our clothes in Tanzania were dried on clotheslines, but then they had to be ironed by a hot iron to kill the larvae of the mango flies, which lay their eggs in drying clothes. If a mango larva get on you, it enters your skin and must later be cut out corkscrew-style.
     Tanzanian schoolchildren in Moshi wear blue-and-white school uniforms.
     The trees and bushes in Moshi are lushly flowered and deeply fragrant.
     It’s safest not to drink the water in Tanzania unless it has been boiled or comes from a bottle. It is difficult to learn the habit of brushing your teeth with water from a bottle.
     The medical students want to improve the country’s health-care and educational systems. One wants a grant to start a farm for raising laboratory animals such as rats, because the high schools have no animals for biology students to practice on. Another just wants better cadavers at the medical school.
      All teaching lectures at the medical school are given in English. This must be terribly difficult for many students, who are not strong in their English. Their teachers’ English, in more than a few cases, is also not particularly strong. Many of our students knew medical terms like “cyanosis” but not words like “agony” or “dazed.”
      The medical students have all learned their English, not from native English speakers, but from teachers who have been taught by teachers who have been taught by English speakers. The students are, in other words, three or four removes from first-rate English. They also speak with a strong British accent and claim that sentences end with “full stops,” not periods.
     The students are used to being lectured to. They were not, at first, comfortable with our request for class participation.
     There are excellent Chinese and Indian restaurants in Moshi. I had the best sweet-and-sour pork I’ve ever eaten at the Panda Chinese Restaurant. The Indian restaurant where we ate is named, oddly, El Rancho. It is also excellent.
     “Shantytown” in Moshi is the street with all the big fancy houses—just the opposite of what “shanty” means in the U.S. The biggest house on the biggest compound belongs to the Catholic bishop. Another big one belongs to the Lutheran bishop.
     China is very busy in Tanzania and the rest of southeast Africa, building infrastructure like power stations and making its industry indispensable. This appears to be part of some kind of long-term political plan.
     Ninety-five percent of all Tanzanian cars and vans are Toyotas.
     Termite mounds are everywhere in northeastern Tanzania, up to 10 feet high.
     Nairobi flies by the millions showed up one day at the offices of the program we worked in. These are small flies whose saliva stings terribly if it gets on you.
The typical pose of a Maasai man.

      The small goat and cattle herds that fill the savannah and roadsides in the Kilimanjaro area are often tended by Maasai children as young as six or seven. They all carry inch-thick, 4- to 6-foot long herding sticks. The typical posture of a Maasai man is with a herding stick held horizontally behind his neck and with both hands draped over it.
      Maasai men dress in bright red-and-blue plaid robes. The Maasai are long and lean, like NBA shooting forwards. The men of all other tribes dress in drab pea-greens, browns, and blacks—mostly Western-style clothes. The men of other tribes are stockier than the Maasai. The women of all tribes dress in bright, beautifully patterned cloth.
      American tourists love the colorful Maasai men, who look regal and tall and wear great clothes. But the other tribes disdain the Maasai. Our drivers, who were from other tribes, unanimously said that the Maasai steal cattle and goats, mistreat their own women, practice polygamy, fight poorly, and are too lazy for any nonagricultural job other than security guard.
     At Arusha National Park, about 40 miles from Moshi, where we day-tripped one day, we saw Cape buffaloes, zebras, baboons, kudu, tiny dik-diks, flamingos by the thousands, and wart hogs. The big hit was the colobus monkeys, large black and white creatures, with long white tails and a distinctive yelp. They look like big skunks.
     One day we drove 40 miles to a small village to meet a wood sculptor who lives in the middle of what seems to be a dense banana plantation. He’s a true artist named Lawi. His house/hut is sticks and mud, with a cow and a goat under the same roof. He’s young and very modest. His “exhibition studio” is a window-lit hut with fantastic wood sculptures all over the floor. I bought an abstract sculpture of a kneeling woman with her arms over her head (a common theme in markets, but his is like no other we saw). This sculpture would go for $500 in a Fifth Avenue gallery, I sincerely believe. Lawi sold it to me for 15,000 shillings—about $8.50. We all bought many pieces, all cheap. We didn’t want to take advantage of Lawi, but we also had to be careful not to insult him by implying that he didn’t know the worth of his own work. He and his young family (his teenage daughter kept accounts of our purchases) were clearly very happy that we purchased about $80 worth of sculpture among us. The wood he uses he collects himself from the forest.
     The main commercial center of Moshi is teeming with people, cars, piki-pikis, and bicycles. There are hundreds of small shops, nearly all selling cloth or cloth handbags. How do they all make a living? As white tourists, we were besieged by sellers. At every corner, in the shade, is a line of people at outdoor sewing machines.
     If you want to make Tanzanian students laugh, call something or someone “kichaa.” It means “crazy.” They thought I was “kichaa” when I acted out the word “agony,” which they did not know in their reading. I told them I thought Swahili plurals are kichaa because there are so many ways to make a plural (one doctor is “daktari,” and many doctors are “madaktari”; one tree is mti and many trees are “miti”; one book is “kitabu,” and many books are “vitabu”; one giraffe is “twiga,” and many giraffes are also “twiga”). My students laughed when I told them Swahili plurals make me kichaa.
     One of our best meals was at a saloon/restaurant in the middle of a dark back alley of saloons and shops barely lit by Christmas lights. We wouldn’t have felt safe without locals from our program office. The goat sausage and tomato-cucumber salads were wonderful. We had to leave around 9:00 p.m. because, according to one of our staff, after that the area “gets rough.”
      There is a frontier-city kind of roughness to most Kilimanjaro-area towns: Lots of tough-looking young men, usually hawking something aggressively. Things (vegetables, sandals, toys, soccer balls, t-shirts) being sold off the ground on every inch of sidewalk. Kind of a “Deadwood” feel. But we were assured by our driver that we would be safe walking down such streets. If anything were to happen to us—a pickpocketing, say—all the bystanders would try to catch the thief. They might, we were told, then beat him to death.
     At 5:30 or so each dawn, we could hear the Muslim call to prayer from the main part of Moshi several miles away. Tanzania is about 1/3 Muslim, 1/3 Christian, and 1/3 tribal religions. The Christians, again, are quite fervent, in an evangelical way.
     At one of my class sessions, the med students wanted me to tell them about the United States. I gave them the usual population and political-system facts. But they wanted to know how much money LeBron James makes and what Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing now. They also wanted to know if Freemasons still controlled the American political system. (This is an ongoing tabloid rumor there.)
       After a big downpour one day, a major bridge to safari country washed away, killing a truck driver and his companion. Another downpour washed out a road to Lake Manyara, also on our safari itinerary. But both the bridge and the road were instantly repaired (by hand, mainly with piles of rocks) by the military and locals. Nothing must inconvenience the safari trade, which is a huge source of national income.
      The food at Onsea Hotel in Arusha, where we stayed to prepare for safari, is wonderful! It’s prepared by the gregarious Axel, who trained as a chef in a fancy culinary school in Belgium.
Livestock, often tended by children, are the wealth of the Maasai.
      Arusha is a frighteningly crowded, heavily trafficked city of about 2 million people.
      The road between Arusha, which is in lush banana and coffee country, and Tarangire National Park, where our safari began, passes through dry savannah—Maasai country. On the savannah are many small Maasai compounds, with mud huts looking like the top half of acorns planted in the ground. The compounds are often surrounded by acacia bushes, whose sharp needles keep away hyenas and other predators that will otherwise eat the cattle and goats that are the Maasai source of income and food. Maasai wealth is measured in livestock. We’re told the Maasai still practice female circumcision; our drivers, who were Christian, find this and other Maasai customs like polygamy and daughter-selling disgusting.
      Hanging from trees around Maasai villages are 4-foot logs. We were told these are for bees and their honey.
      In Tarangire National Park we were privileged to see scores of elephants, zebras, wart hogs, impalas, water bucks, baboons, jackals, little vervet monkeys, and giraffes. In our Land Cruiser, with its lift-up top, we got to within 20 feet of elephants and giraffes and most other animals. To them, apparently, we are just another large harmless creature. I liked the impalas and the jackals—elegant creatures. Giraffes and elephants move slowly. The people of Tanzania tend to move at a giraffe-like pace.
      At the reception desk of the tent lodge in Tarangire, my son (in whose name the reservation was) was asked to sign a waver saying that we couldn’t sue if one of us was eaten by a wild creature. This was no joke. We were forbidden to leave our (quite elegant, cement-based) tents after dark. After dinner, we were escorted to our tents in the dark by flashlight-wielding Maasai guards.
     In the middle of the night at Tarangire tent lodge, my son and I, in different tents 15 feet apart, heard a lion between the tents! It sniffed the tents and emitted a sound like a deep purr/growl made by something as big as a bass drum. Terrified, my son and I both stayed stark still in our respective tents, not even waking my son’s wife when she was sniffed by the lion. We were cowardly of lions. Later we heard the territorial bray of the lion nearby.
      In the morning, we emerged from our tents to 15 or so elephants tromping right between the tents, only feet away from us. The elephants made a sound like a deep growl made by something as big as a bass drum. It had been elephants, not lions, we had heard in the night. Major humiliation for son and father. (The “braying,” on the other hand, was, we were told, probably a real lion, but much farther away than we had thought.)
Lionesses resting with cubs—a common sight on our safari.
    At Tarangire, we also saw a lion and her cubs, across the river. And a monitor lizard. And many more elephants, 30 or 40 at a time, often within a few yards. And ostriches, which are ungainly, with their stalk-like necks, bulbous bodies and backward-bending legs. And another lion, sleeping right at roadside under a bush, with a dead dik-dik in the bush behind her. Lions, like domestic cats, seem to sleep a lot. Nearly all the lions we saw on safari (and we saw dozens) were resting. We never saw a lion running or even walking quickly.
     The safari roads everywhere are unpaved, rutted, bone-shakingly bumpy. Many mud holes. (We had to pull a fellow safari van out of one mud hole.) Six hours a day on such roads takes a toll on safari travelers.
      Thousands of trees in the safari parks are broken in half—the victims of elephants. The thick-trunked baobab trees are often made bark-bare by elephants rubbing on them.
      The village outside Lake Manyara had been hit by the deluge two days before and was deep in gooey chocolate mud. Gooey chocolate mud is common in rainy seasons.
      A troop of hundreds and hundreds of baboons in an open Lake Manyara field was very impressive. They like to play tag. Lake Manyara also has giraffes, elephants, zebras. Probably our most beautiful lunch spot was on Lake Manyara, about a quarter-mile from the lake, looking across the vast beach, where three giraffes moseyed along, a lone zebra grazed, and pink flamingos marched left, then right along the shore.
      When we stopped our Land Cruiser at a petrol station on our way to our next safari destination, children and young men banged on the windows to get us to buy jewelry and cloth. “Hapana, assante” did not send them away. We finally had to just ignore them.
      The hotels where we stayed on safari were way overstaffed—more employees than guests. We wondered if there was an agreement between the hotel companies (most based in Europe) and the government that a certain number of locals must be hired and paid full-time, no matter the season. We were in one of the slower seasons. It’s a bit intimidating and discomforting to have employees hovering around you all the time in restaurants and hotels.
      On the way to the Serengeti, we stopped at the Oldupai Gorge (“Olduvai” is wrong), where the Leakeys and others discovered early human remains. A young Tanzanian paleontologist gave an excellent lecture on the origins of man. Much interesting information: e.g., black-skinned people have less hair on their bodies than white-skinned people (makes sense; they didn’t need it in hot climes), and white skin, it is theorized, was better able to generate vitamin D in cold climates where there was less exposure to the sun.
     In the Serengeti plain, we drove into the middle of the vast herds of wildebeest. There were millions of them, stretching to the horizon in every direction. The distant horizon itself was serrated with the silhouettes of wildbeest. One was reminded of the lost herds of American bison.
     Also in the Serengeti: zebras, giraffes, ostriches, Thompson’s gazelles, storks, elephants, baboons, topi, jackals, hyenas (sleeping in the mud, sometimes in their own urinated mud), two leopards resting almost invisible in trees a hundred yards from the road. Hartebeest are the shyest of the animals, seen only from great distance. Here and in Lake Manyara we saw scores of hippos, usually wallowing in hippo-piles in rivers and mudholes, occasionally lumbering on land. Got to see seven lions sleeping on a pile of rocks.
      Hotels on safari will not cash traveler’s checks.
We saw a mama and daddy wart hog chase off a cheetah after the cheetah grabbed one of their babies.
      Leaving the hotel one morning in the Serengeti, we saw a family of warthogs—mother, father, three babies—crossing the road. Suddenly, out of the grass leaped a cheetah, which had been utterly invisible, even though the grass was only a foot or two high. It grabbed a baby wart hog. The parent wart hogs chased the cheetah, which tried to escape by climbing a tree. Cheetahs don’t climb well. The cheetah dropped the little wart hog and jumped out of the tree and ran away. The wart hogs moved on, less one baby, which was probably left in the grass (we couldn’t tell). We waited for the cheetah to return, but it didn’t. It had returned to invisibility. All this took place in about 10 seconds—our one sighting of a predatory chase and capture. A hyena sensed something from half a mile away, moved closer, and considered checking the scene out, but decided not to.
     It’s very odd to see a Maasai man, in full robes, on a bicycle or on a cell phone.
     Tanzanians really do say “Hakuna matata,” as in The Lion King. It means “no big deal” or “nothing to worry about.” This applies to every situation that is not immediately life-threatening. If blood is not flowing, then hakuna matata.
     Guinea fowl are everywhere in Tanzania.
     Best lion sighting we had was in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, near the Ndutu Marsh, where our driver, Ben, took us off road (allowed there, but not in most places). In a bunch of bushes we saw five lionesses and five cubs playing and resting, not 20 feet away from us, ignoring us. A lovely hour spent watchng them. (Ben was a master at finding interesting animal scenes. He also was well versed in zoology and botany, and he spoke excellent English. He was pretty much self-educated. An impressive and pleasant fellow.)
     Ngorongoro Crater is a huge flat valley. Again we saw all the major animals, including elephants, lions, giraffes, in great multitudes. The highlight was a black rhino—in fact, a black rhino mother and daughter. This is very rare to see. Rhinos are almost extinct, thanks to poachers.
     Bicycles are a major mode of transportation on the paved highways in Tanzania. Boys and men (never, it seems, women) ride them carrying big burdens of sticks or rice or passengers. They must walk the bikes up the hills.
     Roadside shops and bars often have interesting European names, like “Paris Saloon” and “Maryland Bed and Breakfast Resort” (which appeared to be all of one cement room).
     Lots of U.S. t-shirts in Tanzania: “Just Did It!” and Obama portraits. Even some NY Yankee caps.
     There is one European flight out of Kilimanjaro airport each day. It goes to Amsterdam via Dar es Salaam. The trip back to Roanoke took me a total of 36 hours. In the Atlanta airport, I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said, “Mzungu.”


This is the t-shirt I spotted on a traveler in the Atlanta airport at the end of my trip to Tanzania.  "Mzungu" means "aimless wanderer" in Swahili but has more or less come to mean "crazy white person."


  1. Ed-great article. My wife and I will be going to South Africa for the first time this March. We will be spending about five days in Capetown and five days in Kreuger National Park.
    Joel Bennett

  2. Thanks, Joel. It seems you've been traveling a lot yourself. I'm sure you'll find your South Africa trip memorable.


  3. Very entertaining and informative. I learned a lot. I envy you for all the wildlife you got to see. The rest of it -- well, I'm glad you experienced it and blogged about it so now I don't have to go there and find out for myself.

  4. If you go someplace like this, Debbie, I think you should go on foot. You'd cover less territory, obviously, but I think you, especially, would better appreciate what you see that way. After all those days in a Land Cruiser, I respect all the more the way you see the world on your feet.

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