Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Home is where the heart is...

We are down to our last 13 days in the SFS program. It’s hard to believe that I have been in Africa for almost 90 days or so.  Although, it is a lot easier to believe when I think about all that has happened since I have been here.  I have developed lifelong friendships, I have been to seven different national parks, I have lived in Tanzania, I have lived in Kenya, I have studied very hard, I have seen the most unbelievable skies at dusk and at midnight, I have seen so many wild animals, I have been in the most uncomfortable situations, I have slept in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti,  I have been on a hyena chase, I have been to an African Catholic Church, I have bartered my way through the markets,  I have interviewed Maasai, I have done so many things there are too many to name; however, most of all, I have grown.  Mind you, I am the same height I was when I left, but today, I look at myself in the beetle covered mirror outside the bathrooms and see a new desire in my eyes, a new idea of who I really am, a new perspective of the person I want to be.  I’m not saying that you have to travel to Africa to “find yourself”, but I am saying you have to put yourself in a crazy/foreign/new atmosphere to get away from living in such a habitual way.  Do we live following a pretty regular schedule here?  Yes, absolutely.  What is life without order and time and due dates and etc.  My point though is that this world that I have been waking up in for the past 3 months is completely different from my world back at home and at school.  I have realized that at home I have forgotten to truly take advantage of where I am and recognize the world and all that it possesses around me.  I have failed to truly BE where I am.  
In Kenya and in Tanzania, recognizing the world you are in is easy because everything you see makes you think and makes you open your mind and your eyes because it is entirely distinct.  At home, a tree is a tree, a house is a house, blah blah blah… it’s like home is a beautiful painting that never actually gets stared at; it’s seen through more of a glance.  Of course, I love my home, I love my family, my friends, etc.  I think it’s more about recognizing that love that is the most important thing.  Recognizing why it exists and why you feel the way you do…knowing the “because” behind things.  I’ve learned to dive under the surface of things here; simply glancing at something gets you nowhere and leaves you ignorant.
 For instance a tree (most likely an acacia species)  in Kenya is a home for the blue starlings, a food supply for browsers (giraffes, elephants), and a resource for the people (fuel, building material, medicine), a home is a small mud hut that most likely has two rooms (one for sleeping all family members, one for the livestock), a meal is a blessing especially if there is meat available (most consist of ugali, which is essentially corn flour and water, along with maize and beans), a friend is family in all cases (no one is ever left out or forgotten), a life is a battle (the average lifespan of a Kenyan man or woman is 54 years old), a smile is something you will find on every Kenyans’ face.  Let me go further and tell you that 45% of Kenya’s population is unemployed; those who are employed most likely work for the tourism industry or are subsistence farmers.  82% of those making money make less than $1 a day.  These images should make you stop and think.  Look around you and don’t just glance at the world, stare at it, find the meaning in all you have and all you want; if you analyze something and discover no value right off the bat, then you can probably live without it.  Everything in a Kenyan’s life has pertinent value; everything they have ever known, they appreciate immensely.  In some way or another I guess I am saying that you should adopt the mindset of a Kenyan.  Treat all that you experience in your life as an opportunity, as a blessing, and cherish it to the best of your ability. 
I wouldn’t say that I have changed who I was when I left the states.  I would say that I have added several solid bricks to the life I have developed so far.
My research project, which has been going for the past week, is on the evaluation of the rangeland conditions in Mbirikani group ranch.  My group and I spent a solid week collecting data from the field.  We gathered information from unsettled and settled areas within the ranch; settled meaning places where Bomas (Maasai homesteads) are found.  Each of us, equipped with a clipboard, compass, GPS, and tape measure, gathered data regarding herbaceous cover, soil erosion and species abundance/diversity for four solid days.  Two days were spent in settled areas, while the other two were spent in unsettled areas.  The best part of our rangeland condition field work was the unsettled days where we had a Maasai guide as well as a ranger with a gun to protect us from any potential animal encounters.  No lions, or leopards, or buffalos ever showed up, but we did get to do an entire transect (20 separate plots) with giraffes to our right and our left.  It was incredible to be doing scientific work out in the open rangelands of Africa alongside families of giraffes.  What could’ve been better than that?!
 Not only did we do rangeland observations, but we also conducted interviews with the Massai people living in the group ranch.  We did all of our interviews individually for the most part.  It was just me and a translator who walked around the rangeland in search of a Maasai interviewee.  My interviews were all wonderful, all comfortable, and all uncomfortable.  I interviewed one man who fathered 69 children and had 9 wives…pretty crazy to imagine huh?   It’s hard to explain to you everything I experienced during these interviews.  Let’s just say I will be thinking about my mixed feelings for a while.  Finding a balance between the happiness, the pain, the frustration, the gratitude, and everything else I felt during these interviews has been very difficult to do.  I am still grappling with it all.  Perhaps once I finish my report I will have a better understanding of my thoughts.  Speaking of my report… it is officially due in 8 days and I have yet to start typing.  50 pages or so seems like a lot, but since we finished data analysis today, I am starting to feel a little better about getting things done.  This research project has been a great learning experience thus far and I am excited to see the finished product.
What else…. Let’s see, a couple days ago my roommates and I were obnoxiously woken up by what we thought was a lion outside of our banda.  I was the first to hear the loud stomps alongside of our walls.  I laid in bed, staring up at the dead bugs covering my mosquito net, hoping the sounds would just fade away.  An hour later, my eyes still wide open, I finally yell across the banda…”Jeanne!  Wake up!  Do you hear that sound?”  “Yea...what the heck?” she says.  “I think it’s a cat of some sort!” I hastily said back to her.  We listened for the next ten minutes or so before we woke up our other roommate.  All of us were up, scared, and worried about what might be outside of our banda wanting to get in.  Arima was the brave one who got up out of bed in hopes of scaring away what was making the loud noises.  She banged on our front door.  We heard it run from our front door to our back door alongside of the wall.  “Oh my God, it’s a lion.” I said.  “I think it’s a mouse.” Arima said.  “In fact, I can see it.”  AHHHHHHHH Jeanne and I screamed as we heard it run out of our wall and across the floor.  The next couple minutes were spent trying to get the mouse out.  Finally it ran out the door and I laid back down to fall asleep around 2 in the morning.
Also…Happy Belated Thanksgiving from Keyna!  Even though I missed being home for the holidays a ton, I still had a great Thanksgiving abroad.  The day started off with a 5k turkey trot around camp followed by some arts and crafts (I colored for the first time in a long time) and then a trip to the tailors in Kimana.  After we got back everyone was helping in the kitchen and decorating the chumba.  Around 5pm or so we all said a prayer around the table and sat down to begin the feast.  Let me tell you, you haven’t had real turkey until you go pick up live ones from a random Kenyan’s backyard, drive them back to camp, play with them for a little bit, kill them, pluck them, chop them up, and roast them.  Some of my campmates are still sporting their feathers that they decided to keep in honor of the Thanksgiving turkey.  All in all, dinner was delicious.  Turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green-bean casserole, etc., we had it all just in a Kenyan kind of style.    
 I have discovered my favorite insect here in Africa.  Who knew I would ever sympathize with gross crawlies? I surely didn’t until I saw the first stick bug in my life.  They are the friendliest, non-biting insects and I love them.  I now make friends with everyone I see.  I also saw the very first praying mantis of my life, which was really cool.  Their body structure is so complex and they way they hop from blade of grass to blade of grass is incredible.  Oh right, I do have one last bug story that I should mention…. Me and two other girls stared at an ant troop for almost 30 minutes one evening.  We watched the ants carry this giant deceased beetle across the stall floor, over the ledge, and into their hole that was half the size of the beetle.  In order to get the whole beetle into their ant city, they had to break the beetle into pieces, which we also watched them do.  They broke off the outer shell with their jaws, and then pulled off the wings, and eventually got the entire beetle into their home.  Ants are pretty impressive insects; I suggest you Wikipedia them.                         
I hope all is well wherever you are and that you are listening to Christmas carols!  Remember to recognize the beauty around you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Amboseli and Tsavo Pics

staring contest??
notice the cheetah on the left staring at the zebra

On to Tsavo W. NP

A pack of wild dogs!! 

Slowly posting pics from Tsavo NP

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kicking it in Kenya

Sopa! (“what’s up” in Maa, the language of the Maasai)

Gracious, a lot has happened since we arrived in Kenya over two weeks ago. So, if you are interested in reading a short novel, please hop up real quick, pop some popcorn, grab a glass of water, and return your eyes to the screen.

Our camp, as stated a while back, is located in Loitokitok District in Kimana, Kenya. To the north is Amboseli National Park and to the south is Mt. Kilimanjaro. The location is quite exquisite, the camp is very cozy, and the staff is very friendly and always ready to answer a question, help us out, or save us from a fatal slithering snake. Let me catch you up on our activities as camp thus far…

First of all, the short rain season has begun. The rains usually start in Nov and end in Dec, so we get to experience the season at its best. The storms have been exciting to experience so far. The dark clouds roll over Kili, covering the mountain in a gray sheet. Soon after, the thunder and lightening begins. The entire sky lights up as if God is taking a picture of our camp with the largest flash known to man. The roar of the thunder reminds us of the lions we once listened to in the Serengeti; although, it’s like they are right next to our tents rather than several miles away. Like I said before, the stars in the southern hemisphere are incredible; although, the stormy weather might be number one on the list. The rains also have their shortcomings; at least when it comes to being a whimpy American in Kenya. The water availability encourages the snakes, cicadas, and all other creepy crawlers to emerge from their hiding spots. The first night after a hard rainfall, I thought I was going to fall over from the pain bouncing back and forth between my ears. The cicadas (millions of them) come out at night and make the most striking, screeching noises I have ever heard in my life. It was like I was in the middle of a room surrounded by blackboards being painfully written on by crummy chalk pieces (you know that horrible scratch/squeak sound chalk can make?). Listening to these insects is absolutely incredible and dreadful at the same time. I will make sure to record a night when they are out.

The rains have also made it impossible for anyone to use the bathrooms at night. They are the only place lit up after sunset and they attract the crawlies like no other. I walked in there one night, saw a spider the size of my palm, slowly and silently closed the door, let out an inside shriek, and sprinted back to my banda to find a wonderful “peeing place” right outside my banda door. I figure I am at least marking my spot, perhaps, that will keep snakes away from slithering under my bed. I will admit I have become very much okay with bugs. Not only would you be surprised with how okay I am, but you might simply be disgusted with my acceptance. I’ll leave the details for stories back at home. I have truly come to realize that, “if it won’t kill you, then why the hell not?” I have also become a professional outdoor pee-er. I was brought up believing in the goodness and quality of nature as a bathroom (thanks to my father); however, I feel as though my grace and expertise in the act have unquestionably progressed since I left the states. I did try one more time to enter the bathroom after dark to see if I could get lucky with an empty stall. Nope. Saw a grasshopper the length of a pencil and realized that would be the last time I would try to use a toilet at night.

On Nov. 2, a couple days after our Halloween in Kenya celebration that included a piñata, pumpkin carving, and apple bobbing, we went to the Kimana market. Kimana, the town that is, is about a 15 minute drive from camp. It was a lot like the market we went to in Karatu, TZ. There were tons of random things to buy (pots, clothes, tire shoes, spears, the usual stuff) and Maasai mamas were chasing around with jewelry every which way we turned. Going to any market in Africa is an experience. It’s essential to know the phrases I have no money (sena pesa), no thank you (hapana assante), I am a student (mimi mwanafunzi), and goodbye (kwaheri), otherwise you will be easily taken over by Maasai mamas and young Obama fanatics.

Two days later, on Nov. 4th, we got to go on our fifth safari in Amboseli NP. Amboseli is most definitely the prettiest of all the parks I have been to thus far; that might be because of the rain though. It was so open and so exceedingly green. Amboseli is known for it’s elephants and is also one of the not so many biospheres in Africa. We were lucky enough to see a cheetah at the very beginning of our drive and then later we watched two male elephants fight. The smaller of the two was very aggressive and started charging one of our land cruisers. The driver slammed on the accelerator and drove as fast as he could from the elephant. It was very exciting, but also extremely scary to watch. No one was hurt and we were happy we got to witness such a dramatic event up close. The drive back to camp happened during the sunset. The colors were astonishing and it was one of the best sunsets I have experienced while being in Africa.

Throughout these past couple weeks, we have also gone on a couple field lectures and conducted a conducted a couple field exercises. The field lectures have all been on top of hills surrounding specific areas that are essential to the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem. For instance, we have learned about the group ranches in the ecosystem and how they operate. Group ranches have been around since the 60s and were basically implemented to decrease human-wildlife conflict as well as land degradation by livestock. They are all inhabited by the Maasai and provide specific wildlife dispersal areas. Another lecture we had on top of the Amboseli rockies was on all the water systems within the ecosystem and how they work and what areas they support. Water, surprisingly enough, is not that scarce in this area; it is just distributed unevenly and so a lot of people are suffering from lack of water. Field lectures are such a delight because we don’t have to sit in the classroom. It does tend to get really hot outside during the day, but I’d rather be outside than in.

Of our three field exercises we have conducted, my favorite one was doing interviews in Emperon, which is a small area within Kimana Group Ranch, about 20 minutes from our camp. Our interviews were based on human-wildlife conflict and its effect on the agriculturalists in the area. We talked to four families, two Maasai and two Kukuyu. All of them said they have a lot of trouble with elephants trampling their crops and zebras grazing their maize. This kind of damage can threaten the survival of a family because most use their farms for their personal food. Can you imagine having to talk about this issue with someone? The worst scenario I can think of is black bears blasting through fences in our neighborhood and this certainly doesn’t leave families to deal with starvation. Human-wildlife conflict is an enormous problem in the Kimana area; especially during the dry season because large mammals need water and they venture towards the agricultural lands to find it. It almost seems like there is no solution to this problem. In short, because the human population in Africa is growing (2.56%), land dispersal/fragmentation is increasing, which is leading to the isolation of wild animal populations, which is increasing land degradation, which is increasing the frequency of conflicts, which is increasing illegal poaching activities, which is decimating populations, etc., etc. There is a devastating domino effect taking place here in Kenya and finding a way to stop it is going to be an obstinate task to accomplish. Kenya has a new constitution for 2011 and the entire population is relying on its proclamations.

This afternoon (Nov. 11th) we got back from our four day expedition in Tsavo West National Park. Tsavo is the second largest NP in Africa at ~40,000 sq km² , following behind Kruger NP in South Africa. At first, we were all semi-upset because we had the mindset that we were not going to see any animals. No rhinos unfortunately, because they are like unicorns! We did see a pack of wild dogs though. All we did was turn a corner in the cruisers and boom, there they were. Wild dogs are an endangered species and are almost as rare to see as a rhino. They also are usually seen in packs of 10, so we got really lucky to see wild dogs in the first place and in such a large pack. Our professors and staff were all really excited about seeing the dogs too. One of them even said, “my heart is melting,” because he was so happy. Throughout our trip, we saw elephants, giraffes, bushbuck, impala, dik dik, buffalo, hartebeest, turtles, snails (with conches as their shells!), and zebras. Tsavo is so incredibly vast and finding animals in the tall brush is tough, but I think we got really lucky for all we got to see. Not to mention, the surrounding hills and beautiful vegetation were also a large part of the experience. Tsavo is extremely lush and has many dimensions to it when it comes to habitats. There are grasslands, woodlands full of acacias, bushlands, mountainous areas, and a complex combination of roads to travel on throughout the park. Cruising around was definitely an adventure.

The nights were a lot easier to deal with in regard to falling asleep at night. Since Tsavo is so big we did not have a lot of animals running through camp at night. Plus, we had two armed guards rather than one, which was comforting. The only issue we had to deal with was the scorpions. Our “mom” Molly has been stung by one before and she was basically paralyzed for a couple days. She said it was the first pain she had ever felt before…aka she scared the hell out of all of us. They were really hard to avoid because they are just around like ants are around. They are obviously not as abundant but they are just very common in the area we were camping. In total I saw about ten or so. Some are as big as your pinky, while others are a little bigger than the size of your thumbnail. Camping in the bush is an experience to remember. I have never felt so completely uncomfortable and comfortable at the same time. All of our meals and nights under the stars were very enjoyable.

We are now back at camp preparing for the exams we have on Sunday. Another side note, days blend together like smoothies here. You can’t tell a Wednesday from a Sunday! That change has been refreshing; although, I am looking forward to weekends again. Soon after exams we get to pick our directed research project. I am still bouncing around on what I want to do, but as soon as I know, I’ll let you know. It will be really interesting to focus on one primary research idea and gather field data for two weeks before establishing a proposal. I am mostly leaning towards environmental policy and investigating the sustainability of pastoralism in regard to the Maasai tribes that inhabiat the group ranches in the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem; we’ll see what happens. I have to get done with exams first.

I certainly hope all is well wherever you may be. Thanksgiving is only 14 days away and if I fail to write before then, I wish you the very best of the holiday!



Friday, October 29, 2010

Cheers to Tanzania, Hello to Kenya!

What I Wake Up To...Kilimanjaro

Tanzania came to an end in the most beautiful way. We spent one of our last days at the orphange in Mtu Wa Mbu. It was nice to spend the afternoon with the children; they were simply carefree and excited to play with us. We colored, played some soccer, basically just tired them out (and us too!!); a couple of us got to lay the kids down for their afternoon nap before we left for camp, which most definitely kicked in some maternal instincts in all of us and made us miss our own mamas. That evening we were surprised with a huge Tanzania/American feast for our second to last dinner at camp. The kitchen staff made so much delicious food for us (potato bar, chapati, shish-kabobs, somosas, rolls, etc.) it was delicious and a fun celebration of Tanzania. We also went to the primary school right down the road from us to lay some concrete for a kitchen area. The older kids helped us out and we all worked hard to get the concrete mixed and laid nicely throughout the day. Although, we did experience one of the scariest moments at camp that day. As we were laying concrete, a black mamba (a deathly snake that can kill you in less than 30 minutes w/ its venomous bite) slowly slithered out of the concrete. It’s basically the equivalent of seeing a person with a pointed gun and it was super scary. No one was hurt and I am certain the snake was probably killed later that day. On our very last day, we went on our last run around Moyo Hill and hiked up it at the end to watch the incredible sunsets that happened every single evening. We said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff, shed some tears, and recognized how much Rhotia truly impacted our lives.

The next morning we were up at 4:30am gathering our remaining things, eating breakfast, packing lunch, skyping with our loved ones in case it would be the last time, and loading all of our things into the cruisers and the 1980s bus. And soon enough after all of our rushing, we were headed out for the 7 hour drive to Kimana, Kenya. The beginning of the trip started off how most expeditions start, which is sleep. Our car slept for a couple hours before we reached Arusha, a lively city in Tanzania full of people and markets. It was a beautiful area to see, even though we couldn’t get out of the cars. It was very green and full of banana trees; despite the burning piles of trash, I am very excited to get back to Arusha at the end of the program. Seven of us (including my boyfriend!) will be staying at the Impala Hotel in Arusha before heading out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Of course I will be talking about this trip later… back to the trek.

The ride continued several more kilometers before we reached Smart Rite, which is essentially the African Wal-Mart surrounded by miscellaneous shops/restaurants. So of course, all of us were freaking out about going shopping for the first time in a while to basically buy junk food for ourselves. I successfully bought a couple bags of potato chips (Lays Sour Cream & Onion) as well as some “oreos”.. they are American, but they are made out of milk chocolate so they don’t exactly taste the same, but they are still delicious dipped in peanut butter or a lovely hazelnut spread. I was also lucky enough to stumble upon a coffee shop (COFFEE coffee coffee!) I walked in; well, jumped in due to excitement, and happily ordered an Americano (freshly grinded espresso with hot water). I could feel my mouth watering as I brought the steaming cup to my lips; next thing I knew, I was bouncing off the walls with enjoyment… well not really, I’m still pretty immune to the effects of caffeine. The coffee and the shops simply made the bumpy, 7 hour trip much more doable. Some chips, oreos, cheese, a baguette, and a few hours later, we drove up to our new home. We arrived close to sundown so we didn’t get to see the surrounding environment until the next morning; however, we did make it in time to see the stars that night. I can now say that I have seen Pegasus, Scorpio, Jupiter, and Cassiopeia in their brightest phases. I looked at the night sky for close to ten minutes and was lucky enough to see four shooting stars dart through the gray clouds.

I went to bed that night, smiling and realizing (once again) that I am in Africa. Little did I know that I would wake up to a clear blue sky and Mount Kilimanjaro staring in me in the face. It is simply unbelievable to see such a site right in front of me and it makes me stop whatever I am doing during the day, take a deep breath and soak in the amazing area I am currently in. Camp is huge. Much bigger than in Tanzania, but that’s because we are not allowed out of the fence because of the wild animals that surround our camp. There is a great running trail around camp that borders the fence; you can only see Kili on one side of course, so as soon as I pass it I have to sprint around the rest of the trail to see it again. It’s acting as my motivation to get in shape so I can climb it once December rolls around. The staff, the food, the bandas, the atmosphere is all wonderful. I am definitely still getting used to it all though and thoughts of Tanzania still enter my mind all the time. I am certain that I will find a home here, it will just take a little time.

I will be writing again soon. I hope all is well wherever you may be.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some More Serengeti (so many great pics!)

A little loving between mother and son
Hippo vs Bird ?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Serengeti Pics

A Happy Hippo

Serengeti Adventures

Oldupai Archeological Site
Sunrise in the Serengeti
Daughter and Mother Glancing into Each Others Eyes
A Hyena with a Zebra Leg
Mama and Cub

I sit here and I feel stressed, tired, anxious, curious, blessed, excited. There is no one feeling I can express clearly to you right now. I’m stressed because of the work we have due in the next couple days, I’m tired because I am in need for just one day to sleep in past 7:30am, I’m anxious because I want to hear about others’ lives in the States, I’m curious because we leave for Kenya in one week from now and I am interested in the life I will be living for the next 7 weeks, I’m blessed because I look outside my window and realize “I am in Africa” and “I have never learned so much about myself and others in such a short period of time,” and I am excited for my last week in Tanzania and the enjoyable events we have planned. I am also certain that many more emotions are hidden within my mind and my heart, but I can’t just type them all out on paper, a blog is not a diary.

Let me fill you in on the past couple weeks. We had exams for our classes on Oct. 6th and 7th. They arrived quickly and they took a good amount of effort to prepare for, but they were successfully overcome by all of us and I feel good about what I turned in. Enough about exams and studying, that’s boring to write about, let me tell you about our expedition to the Serengeti that happened right after exams were over.

Oct. 9th, we were up and running at 5:15am. We packed up the “white rhino” (a huge truck that carried all of our stuff, food, stove, tents, etc.), ate breakfast, packed lunch, and headed to the cruisers for the approximately 6 hour drive to the Serengeti! Note to viewers, make sure you do not suffer from car sickness when traveling from Rhotia to the Serengeti because it is the bumpiest, most jerking rollercoaster ride of your life. Somehow, most of the people in my car, impressively managed to sleep through the jolts of the excursion. We did make one stop on our way to the Serengeti; we stopped at Oldupai Gorge Archeological Site. A site that represents the origin of man.  After a lecture on the gorge, which was given by a man, who was very kind by the way, but spoke as slow as a sloth, we hopped back into the cruisers and continued the drive. We finally arrived at our campsite. Mind you, our campsite that was located in the middle of Serengeti National Park!

We set up our tents in a circular format, hoping to somehow avoid being attacked by giant hyenas or hungry lions. After camp was prepared, we headed out for a quick game drive. Oh how I love game drives. We came across a mother and daughter lion pair, sipping water from a ditch on the side of the road. They were simply gorgeous. Isn’t it beautiful to know that even mother and daughter lions maintain a long-lasting relationship? We gazed at them in awe for twenty minutes or so. Female lions are so graceful looking, yet so fierce at the same time. Hmm.. It might be nice to have that affect on people eh? I think if I had to choose an animal I would want to be, it would be the lion, or maybe the elephant. Female elephants are so maternal. We saw quite a few herds that contained a grandma, a mother, and a daughter; three generations growing old together! I wish I could pull you through the screen and into my land cruiser; the pictures simply do not fully grasp the feeling I was having, they only pause one moment out of the hundreds that I experienced. So, in hopes of passing on any feelings, take a deep glance at one of the photos, close your eyes and feel the picture. Think about what you see, try to imagine the setting of the animal, experience the moment as best you can. Don’t just look at the photos and say to yourself, “Hm, that’s a great picture.” I want you to be able to say, “Hm, I can see the tall grass waving in the wind behind these lions, I can see how they move their bodies as they walk and look side to side at their surroundings, I can see the beauty of the relationship they have between them.” Imagine the story behind the picture, whether it’s accurate or not is not important; I just want you to feel something and not just look at it. Enough of my blabbering….

The first night in the Serengeti, I was laying in my sleeping bag, back flat on the ground, eyes peeled open as if tape was holding my eyelids to my forehead. My heart was beating as it beats during a sprint, bum bum bum bum bum bum bum, I was scared. My tent mates laughed when I told them I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep. My watch glowed at almost every hour; midnight, 1am , 2am, and then it happened. I heard the loudest footsteps and the heaviest breathing I have ever heard right next to my head. I was smart enough to pick the edge for my sleep spot, that certainly didn’t make me feel any safer. I quickly rolled onto the girl (Alyson) sleeping next to me. I tapped her shoulder and told her to listen carefully. She herd the steps and the heavy breaths too. Soon, our entire tent was awake, sitting up, waiting to hear something scary. The noise never returned. Everyone went back to sleep, besides me of course. I think I finally closed my eyes around 4am; too bad wake up was at 5:15am.

The first thing I did as the beautiful sun rose across our camp, was look by the side of our tent. There, in a blatantly clear view, were hyena footprints. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but the prints were only two feet away from my head! It turns out, according to our askaris (guards) who were up all night, about five hyenas had walked through our campsite. In fact, one of them attempted to drag our covered trashcan out with him and an askari had to play a game of tug-of-war with the hyena to get it back.

That day I realized I was overreacting and that it was more important to sleep than to lay awake wondering if I was going to be eaten by a famished leopard. The next three nights I slept much better, but was still awaken at least once during the night. We had zebras followed by hungry lions, and hyenas walk through our camp during our stay; too bad we didn’t have a camera rolling to document the nocturnal hunters. The rest of our expedition consisted of some small lectures, one field exercise on bird species and one on fire (burned vs. unburned habitats) influencing associations of ungulate species, as well as a few more game drives. It was one incredible experience that will never cease to amaze me every time I think about it. In conclusion, I would have to say my favorite part of the trip was the hippo pool. Hippos are just fascinating animals. Yes, I believe they are one of the most laziest animals on the planet, but they also possess many interesting traits. Did you know a male hippo can weigh up to 3200kg and still gallop at 30kph (convert to lbs and mph is neccessary)?? And did you know a hippo’s jaws are wide and powerful enough to bite a 9 ft long crocodile in two? I also think hippos possess one of the best African mammal smiles I have ever seen (check out the picture…it’s so happy!) We got back to camp and I finally showered for the first time in 15 days (sorry mama), yay water conservation!

One thing out of the many things I will bring back home with me is this phrase, “there is always time,” (a phrase that a lot of our staff say). Zero Tanzanians wear watches and they most certainly don’t live by deadlines or due dates. I am an American, and I honor due dates and turning things in on time and I respect the goals I set for myself and the time I want to accomplish them in. Therefore, I will not come home thinking that there is always time to do everything and that time is not an issue; however, I will come home believing in the importance of time. Importance, meaning the time I have here on Earth, and not to be too cliché, but how each second is spent and that I want to soak up all the time I have with the ones I love. Tanzanians interpret “there is always time” like “eh, we’ll get this done sometime, there is no rush, hakuna matata.” I am taking it as there is always time to tell someone you love them, or there is always time to do something you want to do, or there is always time to be where you want to be. Never underestimate time and think that there is not enough of it; you simply need to use it wisely. So, in hopes of passing on a message that has been passed on to me, I hope you will look at your “list of things to do” and if that happens to revolve around things that need to be done e.g. go to the grocery store, mail this bill, clean the house (which it most likely does), add something to the top that revolves around someone you love or something you want to do for yourself. Rather that is, sit outside and read a book, go for a bike ride with my son, call my mother just to say, “ I love you,” write an email to my best friend, etc. Take the time to do that one thing and don’t think “I don’t have time.” Mind you, I know the people reading these words are very good at managing time and finding time for themselves and their loved ones, I am simply a reminder of that good quality you possess. So, today or tomorrow or the next day, (BUT no later), do something for yourself that makes you happy, and do something for another to show them you love them.

I hope all is well wherever you may be,


Sunday, October 17, 2010