Cow's Blood and Milk, Yummy - The Safari Circuit
(Believe it or not, my friends, I am the quietest person in the Ed Mahler family!)
Today I will use the Socratic Method to tell you about our trip.
Question 1: Is being on safari like driving through a Six Flags Adventure Wild Kingdom exhibit?
My brother thought so. Especially since this was the height of the tourist season. In Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara, if there was a predator there was a traffic jam of 10 to 15 safari cars - each with its cargo popped out of the top with mega telephoto cameras and infra-red binoculars. Perhaps it speaks to the preparedness of my family that no one thought to bring binoculars and the only camera we had was my Dad's every day, automatic Olympus. Still... we got plenty of fabulous photos - especially of tourists popped out of the tops of their vehicles looking at animals. (Seriously, sometimes that was more interesting than seeing an elephant for the 20,000th time.)
A unanimously favorite moment came on our last day of safari. We were just about to leave Serengetti when we noticed a car on the side of the road looking at something. We pulled up and our driver pointed out that there were two huge male lions sleeping on the side of the road. This is a spectacular find! Male lions are generally hard to find, and having two asleep just 5 feet from our car was amazing. While we were watching, the car that had been there first sped away and a new car came over. Out of the top popped a male, East Asian-looking tourist with super-binoculars. He spent 5 minute scanning the plain, desperately trying to find whatever it was that we were stopped to look at. We even pointed down at the ground for him to try to help him see what was just at his feet. (His car actually nearly ran over one of the lions.) Eventually he got frustrated and drove away. He never did see the lions. But we got some great photos that I just know will come in handy for a PowerPoint presentation some day.
It is important to let you know that it wasn't crowded everywhere we went. It was, in fact, quite possible to get away from the crowds and break out on our own - even in the very crowded parks. But a major highlight for us came from the fact that I was late making reservations and all the hotels in the very popular southern Sernegetti were sold out. This forced us to drive an additional 4 hours north (all while game viewing) to the northern Lobo area which was spectacularly beautiful and totally empty. The next day we went on a game drive even further north to the Kenyan border and saw only one other safari car. That afternoon we sat by the pool of our hotel on top of a rocky mountain and watched the scenery unfold. On the plain below us we saw zebras, giraffes, buffalos, elephants, gazelles, impalas, warthogs and others graze and just generally hang out. Rob (my brother) said this seemed more like a scene from Jurassic Park - and I must agree with him. But it was also exhilarating.
Question 2: Can 2-year-olds possibly get anything out of an expensive safari?
Absolutely. But don't be sad if for hours on end they want to play with stuffed animals instead of looking out the window. I think that Jaden and Rowan really enjoyed their safari experience. They got to spend lots of quality time with the people they love locked up in a car for 8 hours a day. And as a bonus they got to ride without their car seats. (Once we were on a game drive we let them sit on our laps.) Some piece of every day they actually looked at the animals. Rowan loved to ask the grazing elephants, "What yah doing?" in her cutest little nasal voice. Jaden became a bit of a car nazi - ordering our driver, Kchewi to stop every time he saw something interesting. Jaden was drunk with power.
But my favorite moments with the kids were when we were stopped for lunch or at night. They would run around exploring their new environment. Rowan liked to pick up and show me "doo-doos" - which is a Swahili word for "bug". She is so hardy. She would walk around our lunch stop areas with a stick, uncovering rocks and and bringing me pieces of rodent shit to examine. I loved seeing her this way - my little tom-girl all dressed in pink.
Of course it was a little stressful - what with mom thinking that a lion was about to pounce out of the bush and eat one of the kids. But I thought it was important for the kids to have an opportunity to walk around and explore.
At night, all the hotels we were in had African bands playing local music and sometimes dance performances. This was the moment the kids loved the best. One night, Jaden and Rowan danced before a crowd of many for nearly an hour straight. They loved the music. Sad to say, however, Rowan dances a bit like Elaine from Seinfeld while Jaden is all about karate chops. But Secunda is working on their African dancing and before long I think they will be shaking their booties like a native Tanzanian.
Question 3: How do the Masaai keep their robes from falling off?
My father asked me this question just yesterday. But I thought about it too, when we were up north. The area where the national parks are in northern TZ is Masaai country. It was not uncommon to see a group of Masaai - draped in their highly recognizable red and blue blankets and adorned with tons of beaded jewelry - tending huge herds of cows in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Better yet, you would often see a lone warrior walking across the massive plain with no obvious objective in sight. My dad called them the most macho people he's ever met. I think he was also in shock over the Masaai diet. You see... their main diet is cow's blood mixed with milk (the anti-Kosher). They rarely eat vegetables. And they almost never kill their cows since they are more valuable alive than dead. Hungry for lunch when you are on the road tending your cows? Select one, cut its vein and pour the blood into a cup, then milk the cow and mix it with the blood and ummmm, enjoy. You have to admit, it is pretty convenient when you are walking a herd across the wilderness. And as Rob pointed out, it speaks for why they are so skinny. They are on the Atkins Diet.
I've become pretty familiar with some of the Masaai ways over the past three months because our receptionist at T-MARC is Masaai - and at least half the week he is dressed in his Masaai clothing. But it was an entirely different thing being out in the bush. We did the tourist thing and stopped in a Masaai boma (compound) and paid money to learn a bit more about the Masaai, get a tour of their compound - including their elfin size huts, and take some photos. It was actually rather interesting - the people in the compound were lovely. They were especially interested in holding Jaden and Rowan. Mom threw a fit at that and tried to keep the kids from touching people - she was worried about disease. In the end, however, it was tough to avoid shaking hands with the guy who had just blown his nose into his palm and wiped in on his skirt. Sometimes you just have to do it and then wash yourself in Purell - that's just the way things are here. Still... we got some good photos. I'll let you know if we also got TB.
And to answer the question above - they wear a belt.
Question 4: Did you get to see Mt Kilimanjaro?
Yes. And we were very lucky to see it, because it is rarely clear on top of the mountain. Rob, however was obsessed with wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. He seems to think that he is in good enough shape to do it. I think not. But because he talked about it incessantly, the kids started talking about it too. Now, a week later, Jaden still asks to go to "tallest mountain" (part Kilimanjaro, part Dora the Explorer reference) every day. It was cute at first. Now I'm over it.
Question 5: How was the beach?
Very relaxing. The three days we spent at the beach after the safari were great. The kids got to run around. We had Secunda with us so we got to rest from running after the kids. The weather was perfect. And they even managed to come up with nice vegetarian food for dad.
Question 6: What did Rob and Dad think of Dar es Salaam and your life there?
My father told me yesterday, "I can see how you can get used to this place." And I think that after the initial sensory onslaught caused by large crowds of people in markets, the smell of burning garbage, the lack of internet access (for them) while I'm at work (with my computer) , and adjusting the the fact that you are a white minority in a black world it is easy to get to like this place. Rob, however, seems to feel a little bit stifled. He harped on the lack of a gay hang out. And he teased me (a lot) about how my life feels to him like the movie Truman. Do you remember that film? Jim Carey played a guy who was raised from birth on a giant movie set but didn't know it. Every time he tried to go off the set, the people in his life (who were actually actors) tried to get him turned back to the set. Well Rob thinks that the peninsula on which I live (this area of mainly ex-pat suburbs) is like that. There are only a few stages on this set that everyone visits. He and Dad tried to go for a walk yesterday and they only got a few blocks away when my driver, Paul, showed up and told them... "You don't want to go that way, why don't you get in the car?" Rob says that clearly no one wants them to leave the set.
And so Mom, Dad and Rob get on the plane tonight and I will once again be on my own in my own house, making decisions about my own children.
But here in Dar Jaden, Rowan and I are still on safari. Come and join us.