The dense and heavy fog that filled Ngorongoro was just starting to abate as we reached the crater floor. Having spent the night sleeping on the rim of the dormant volcano, we woke invigorated by the splendour of our natural surroundings. We begged our guides to make sure we were the first truck inside the crater, and we got what we asked for.
Just as I was clawing the remnants of sleep from the corners of my eyes, we spotted a pride of lions sprawled in tall grass. As we approached, they barely flinched. The stains of blood smeared across their faces left them nearly comatose, burdened with the meat of a fresh kill. Behind them, we spotted a destroyed zebra carcass, picked clean. Hard to argue with the efficiency of nature.
It seems pretty obvious that we don’t choose the life we are born into. A toddler doesn’t choose their country, their government, their family, their religion, their history, or their social class. When two people come together to bring a new human into the world, they bring them into a life already riddled with rules and limitations, but it isn’t their world either. It is the world they inherited from their parents and grandparents and so on back until the dawn of time. Our societies grow out of necessity and convenience, creating a world around us. But as our societies grew and developed, we began to explore the world and export our customs and cultures. We exploited those that we could and established a hierarchy of human value, based largely on geography. We forgot that each and every person is part of something bigger. We forgot it about ourselves. We forgot that we belong to a larger collective. A collective of human beings, struggling one against the other for a bigger part of the proverbial pie. But the forgotten truth is that we are the pie, and we each deserve to be valued for who we are rather than where we are. So when we take more than we need, we take from one another, weakening the whole of humanity.
When the sun finally set on our first day on safari, I knew I had made the right decision. To me, going on safari seemed like one of those things only rich old white people did, not young stinky adventurers. But in this case, I think I was duped by the khaki fashion designers and I was happy to be wrong.
After sourcing a budget version, which switched lodge accommodations for camping (exactly what I wanted), it became feasible. After researching the sights on our itinerary, it became impossible to stop dreaming about.
The glowing orange sun was disappearing when our guide announced it was time to head back to camp. We arrived at tent city, stuffed our faces with delicious fresh food and curled up into our sleeping bags. As I drifted off into an exhausted sleep, I was lost to the wailings of hyenas, the snorts of water buffalo, and the trumpeting of elephants. Perfect.
I had dreamed of going on safari all my life. I wanted to be surrounded by animals, indifferent to my existence. I wanted to be wrapped up in the wild, cut off from the world and its rules.
We, humans, employ our logic and rationality on an irrational world. We seek truths and answers to push us from one day to the next. But our answers are only that, ours. Our lives are guided by our collective subjective interpretations of the world around us, forming what we perceive as objective truths. But our truths are fragments, silhouettes of a fuller picture. The only objective truth we have is the one we are born into. We are alive.
Dust shot into the air as my feet touched down. Stepping out of an old Landcruiser, I took of my old ball cap and wiped an engrained line of dust and sweat from my brow. I was nearing the end of my time in northern Tanzania, but had one more experience to check off the list, to visit the famous Maasai people.
Even as I sit here and write about it, I still feel conflicted. To enter the village, we paid for access. In return for our payment, we had a stunning dance and song performed for us and were welcomed inside the village. Generally, this is not how I like to meet people. I want to connect on a human level, not an economic one. I understand that we all want to make money, but when we sell out our heritage and culture, what does it say as to what we value? And it isn’t hard to guess where the Maasai learned this trick.
Bouncing along the seldomly smooth roads of northern Tanzania, I kept my camera in hand. Alongside the packed dirt roads were young children running around chasing sheep and goats. I learned that kids were often put in charge of a flock and it was their responsibility to find new grasses to graze. To some it may seem unfair that these children are put to work so young, but they are receiving an education for the life they will know. They will learn to care for animals, the value of responsibility and where to find the greenest grass in a country often ravaged by drought.
I spent a couple of years living in Egypt, where I made a point of visiting some of the poorest regions. At first, the poverty seemed almost absurd, so unbelievable in its difference from my own life in Canada. An Egyptian friend, who shared a small apartment with three dogs and no furnishings taught me a valuable lesson, he told me “We don’t feel poor, this is a normal life.”
People don’t often realize that despite their own life feeling “normal”, it isn’t. There is no norm for how humans live. We are born into different environments and adapt accordingly, a blend of nature and nurture. The “poverty” in Egypt felt overwhelmingly surreal to me, but now as I walk down the snow covered sidewalks of Toronto, the affluence and excess feels just as surreal and doubly as absurd. After all, it’s all relative.
The Great Migration is an epic event of nature, heralded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Taking place between Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, close to 2 million wildebeest make the giant loop in search of water and greener pastures.
During their constant search for survival, they bring new life into the world and lose lives at the end of their cycle. As the favourite meal for most of Africa’s major predators, wildebeest travel in giant herds with a swarm mentality, working as one unit for the preservation of their species.
Lessons from the natural world.
The bright colours of the Maasai people guided us towards their small encampment. After having just spent a week in the dust covered plains of the Serengeti, the Maasai robes stood out. We wrestled our moral qualms with disingenuous tourism into submission and forked over 50 dollars to visit one of their villages.
First off, we were welcomed with most unusual throat singing and dancing. Then the rest of my group was guided into the village for a tour but I stayed behind. I had noticed a few of the Maasai guys sizing me up. Before I knew why, I was being challenged to a jumping competition to which I graciously accepted. For some reason that still alludes me, as I handed over my camera, I was handed a wooden stick to hold while I jumped up and down. I learned that my height (almost 6’7) was a hot topic of conversation among the locals and the growing crowd wanted to see if the rumours were true. I crouched down and leapt into the air, bouncing up and down. But as I looked over at my jumping partner, suspended in the air above me, I knew I had been outdone. With a heavy heart I confirmed their suspicions, white boys can’t jump.
A week of camping and exploring Tanzania’s national parks left us caked in dirt and counting memories. But as many times as you see a lion or an elephant, they basically behave how you would expect. They don’t have the intricacies of a rich and vibrant culture dictating their traditions. The people of Tanzania on the other hand, seem to have lots.
One such tradition is the Tanzanian wedding procession. A convoy of pickup trucks filled with celebrating family and friends rolled down the highway playing the trumpet, trombone and drums. It was a welcome return to civilization.
I arrived on the scene moments after a hungry lioness had tackled a zebra down into a gully. The death of the zebra was swift, with a deadly blow to the jugular by the hungry hunter.
The lioness dug her teeth into the flank of her meal and began to drag it up to dry land. The zebra slipped from her jaws and splashed back into the water. After a few more attempts to bring breakfast to the table, she gave up and deigned to dine, standing belly deep in bloody water. A lioness lives another day.