Out of Africa

We had a fabulous time in Africa, and loved much of our visit to this great continent.  I’m torn, though, about how to report on our final couple of weeks there.

Tanzania III 022 Originally, we planned to spend two weeks in Tanzania, and the final two weeks of our trip in Kenya.  Yet, while we love wildlife and the African bush, we were perhaps pushing things a bit by scheduling almost three full months in safari Africa.  We were doing two, and at times, three game drives a day, and after a while, even a wildlife-loving family like ours is ready for a change.

Tanzania I 005 We had a great time in Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania.  But the rest of Tanzania wasn’t all that exciting for us.  It was probably a combination of a) safari saturation, b) being in Tanzania the wrong time of year (you definitely want to play your stay here to maximize the likelihood of being here during a migration), and c) some particularly poor choices of locations.

Tanzania III 038 Net, net, we cut our stay in Tanzania short by a couple of days.  Our last location was particularly disappointing (someplace called the Lukuba Lodge on Lake Victoria, which gave us all the creeps).  Our itinerary had been planned by two groups (Small World Travel in Austin, Texas, and Abercrombie and Kent), so we weren’t exactly picking locations out of a phone book.  But the difference between the way these places were described, and the reality, was vast, and we weren’t happy with our guides. 

Tanzania III 062 We lost so much confidence in our itinerary that we decided to skip our Kenya trip (all pre-paid :-( ), and get “Out of Africa.”  One thing that has always worked well for Elizabeth and me is that we have very similar perspectives on “cutting your losses.”  When we go to see a live performance, we make sure wePicture 336 have tickets on the aisle, and have no issue leaving after 15 minutes or so when it’s clear we don’t enjoy the production.  I did a careful  analysis of the venture industry and concluded it was in for a long period of economic challenge, and shifted gears professionally.  And we got a lot out of our time in Charleston, SC, but felt we’d been there long enough, and were off and running on this great trip!  So once we concluded we were getting bad advice about what to do in Africa, and felt we’d had a great experience here, we had no issue changing our game plan.

Tanzania III 196 We had one memorable experience in Tanzania prior to departure.  In the Serengeti, we visited a local Masai trival village and their local school.  It was an eye-opener.  We met several of the people living in a small local community.  I’d say maybe 40-50 people lived in a set of huts made of branches and cow dung.  We met a family in their hut, which measured about 4 meters by 4 meters, and slept eight!  Even more challenging, there was a constant fire inside the hut, meaning a substantial amount of smoke inhalation for its residents.  Few people know that smoke inhalation is one of the largest killers of children age five or younger around the world, many of whom are raised in uninterrupted proximity to a fire.

Tanzania III 070 We were amazed at how the Masai people lived.  Many of them, adults and children, were covered in flies.  And many of the kids looked to be quite ill, with open sores on their faces.  We learned that in this culture, woman face exceptionally challenging circumstances.  They do most of the daily hard labor.  One woman described her typical day as getting up before everyone else, milking the cows, fixing everyone breakfast, go out and find firewood, go to the local stream (often more than a kilometer away) and carry back water, tend to some farm areas, fix lunch, and on and on. 

Tanzania III 123 The marriage ritual was also particularly punitive for the Masai women.  As long as a man or his family has the dowry (generally twenty cows), a man can marry as many women as he wants.  And the current wife/wives have to build a new home for the most recent wife.  These Masai women often seemed cheerful, but we’ve learned over the course of this trip that appearance can be deceiving, and they clearly have a very hard life.

Tanzania III 069 The Masai men spend their day caring for the livestock (cows and goats, for the most part).  They go through a strange rite of passage ritual at age 16 where a Masai boy becomes a “man.”  I’ll spare you the gory details, but a boy gets circumcised by a sharp knife with no anesthesia, and is disgraced if he flinches or shows any sign of pain.  Many die from subsequent infection.  And, in their culture, it’s well known which young men have made that transition, and which “failed the test.” 

Tanzania III 210 We also visited a Masai school, which was better than no school, but not by a lot.  This school has almost 800 students, and just 11 teachers.  There are 70 kids per classroom, and four children to a desk.  They have no books and few supplies.  I know that some remarkable kids make their way through these challenges, get a good education, and go on to higher grades.  But most deal with a very difficult experience, and receive little real education.  Our kids were shocked at the circumstances of this school, and we all got a better sense of the challenges remaining in Africa’s educational infrastructure.

Tanzania III 203 So now we’re on to Western Europe to wrap up our trip, after a brief stop in Nairobi.  If anyone is ever considering a trip to Eastern Africa, we can tell you a lot about what not to do, and very little about what to do.  Oh, well.  We loved our first couple of months in Africa, and are on to new adventures!  And, while it wasn’t our highlight, we will soon have Tanzania photos you may want to check out.

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