People come on safari to see lions and elephants, but they return for another trip and refer their friends often because of the surprisingly moving non-game viewing experiences.
Just as there’s more to America than Disneyland and Vegas, there’s a whole lot more to the places where the great animals still roam the wild.
My Ross family is currently on their second day at Gibb’s Farm in Karatu, Tanzania. There aren’t even monkeys in the beautiful forests that surround the farm. Bush babies scream at night and come down to eat leftovers out of kids’ hands, but the most visible animal is Gracy, the farmhouse cat.
Why is this such an important stop? Why give up a few days of your precious vacation time in Africa not to see animals?
Essentially because Tanzania – in fact any place in Africa – is as much a part of your community today as the next door neighbors. The world is inextricably connected.
What happens when the Tanzanian President imposes a $2 billion fine on a North American company mining its gold; or when American drones nuke a sheik walking on the Indian Ocean beach; or when Tanzania decides to damn a river for electricity that could wipe out most of its elephant population … there are plenty of ramifications way beyond whether the lion caught the wildebeest.
Africans are desperate that their visitors understand these things. They’re equally hopeful that today’s visitor realizes there are more cell phones per capita in Tanzania than in the U.S. and that dirty-faced nomads living in thatched huts are no longer the norm: eight lanes of congested traffic filled with Benz’ and diesel-coughing trucks and motorists with earbuds looking rather put out is the norm.
Balancing this modern reality with the somewhat fairy tale image of Africa new visitors have opens up wide pleasures of personal discovery.
My Ross Family has crammed their two days here at Gibb’s I suspect similarly to their hockey and volleyball games, school plays and sleepovers at home.
Hardly a few minutes in the lodge and the two kids, Ethan and Carly, were in the tutelage of Masuf, the resident artist. Tanzania has an extremely rich heritage of canvas art, including the unique Tinga-Tinga style that has swept through Japan recently.
Most young Tanzanian children learn some form of hand-created art from an older relative. Masuf taught the kids oil on canvas, but using materials that he had personally created from recycled materials. It’s not easy in the developing world to order linseed oil and bamboo palettes.
Today the whole family is going to the local primary school. My personal opinion is that this is one of the most important experiences a visiting American kid can have. First it dispels the notion that African kids are clothe-less and running around the savannah barefoot. Second it affirms how important school is to these kids themselves, something that Americans often just take for granted.
The education curve in Africa has been phenomenal in my life time. See the film, “First Grader.” Today Africans are taking the lead in many areas including pharmaceutical development, software engineering and agriculture. This has happened in a generation.
I’ve often written with some admitted exaggeration of Africa’s development, and I often receive comments calling me out. But when you consider, for example, how a Tanzanian high school student recently approached one of my tour groups and asked politely, “Is it true that some Americans don’t believe in climate change?” he was absolutely astonished when someone answered in the affirmative.
In many ways I see western societies – America in particular — as retrogressing compared to Africa.
I’m not expecting Ethan and Carly will achieve this perception after only these two days. But it’s a start and something I know they will remember perhaps just as fondly as the first lion they saw!