Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Deadwood

AdventureMan and I are in the midst of a DVD-watching-marathon. Our son packaged up three entire seasons of the HBO show Deadwood, and we are in the middle of season two, now. I had seen occasional episodes now and then on AmericaPlus, here in Kuwait, but what we see here in Kuwait is heavily censored. I made the mistake of watching one episode with my son when I was back in Florida last summer.

Everything was OK (you get de-sensitized to the language after a while) until one very graphic sex scene which sort of happened before we knew it was going to happen. Believe me, there is nothing LESS sexy than watching a graphic sex scene in the same room as your own son. He said it works the same way being in the same room watching with your mother! (no kidding). I never watched another episode with him; couldn’t take that chance, it was just too awful for words.

But watching with AdventureMan, now that is something else entirely.

One of the things I love about the HBO series is that you find the same people appearing as totally different characters in different series, and you start kind of looking for them. For example, Charlie Utter in Deadwood, was also the California drug dealer in John from Cincinnati. Kristin Scott Bell (who will always be Veronica Mars to me) shows up in Deadwood as a young woman with a con game. When she loses, she loses big. Again, this series is both graphic and gruesome, not something to watch with your parents or your children.

(Hard to believe, but that is Kristin Bell as Flora)
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Deadwood is the story of life in the days of the California gold rush. In the very first episode, we see how basic and crude and violent life can be without any rule-of-law. From the very beginning, might makes right, the strong take what they want, and the weak suffer, are exploited, die or are killed.

In succeeding episodes, we watch power struggles, and also the inward creeping of small signs of civilization . . . and the strong men have to share a little of their power, the tiniest threads of government begin to creep in. That is what keeps this show alive for me, and why I watch, in spite of the violence and incredibly vulgar language. It is a society in transition, from lawlessness to civilization. Those who prosper under lawlessness have to learn new ways of coping as rule-of-law creeps in.

There is one episode about plague, how it creeps into the community, and it seems to be to be an allegory for how rule-or-law creeps in, first the tiny threads, and slowly those threads weave themselves into the texture of daily life. The town bullies don’t like it, but as men who have survived – they adapt or they have to move on. We are held captivated by this series, and fascinated at how this crude society is transitioning and transforming into something else entirely.

I have two favorite characters, Calamity Jane and the Doctor. Calamity Jane has lived a tough life, had a tough beginning, and – so far – keeps herself pickled in liquor to bear her daily life, especially after Wild Bill dies. She dresses in men’s clothes, swears worse than many of the men, and at the same time . . . there is something insightful and whimsical in her character.

The Doc is a straight talking character, doing his best to patch people up and keep them alive under the very worst circumstances. He treats the town whores, treats the plague victims, treats the town leaders – he is it, he is the only source of medical services in the town. He is practical, and tough, and compassionate.

If you get a chance to watch Deadwood, it will hold your attention – there has not been a boring episode so far. Just don’t watch with your parents or your children!

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December 31, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Crime, Cultural, Entertainment, Humor, Living Conditions | , , , , | 2 Comments

Insha’allah

One of the best things about moving between cultures as often as I have is that I get a chance to learn how much I don’t know. One of the things I have learned living in the Middle Eastern countries was how little I knew about my own religion. Knowing how little I knew sent me into a bible-study program that I look forward to resuming one day when I am living back in the US, or someplace that offers it – Bible Study Fellowship. They do an in-depth study of different books, or sections, of the bible, very serious, and you learn so much.

Apart from that, the church with which I affiliate, the Episcopal Church, has daily readings – I’ve mentioned this before – you can see them yourself by clicking on The Lectionary over in my Blogroll, and then going to the Daily Office Readings and clicking on the right week. Once there, you have to click on the day of the week, and it will take you to the readings for today.

One of the readings for today, the New Testament reading, made me smile:

James 4:13-17,5:7-11

13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’
14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
15 Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’
16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

7 Be patient, therefore, beloved,* until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.*
9 Beloved,* do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!
10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved,* take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

In the first section, verse 15 tells us that we should be like good Moslems, never saying we are going to do something without adding “if God wills it,” or (big grin) in Arabic, “Insha’allah.” How often we hear Westerners saying “None of this ‘Insha’allah!’ I want you to DO it, dammit!” I never looked twice at this verse until I had lived in the Middle East.

In the second part, there is a message just meant for me, maybe not for you, in verse 9. It tells me not to grumble against another person, of I will be judged by the same standard. Hmmmm, now there’s a scary thought!

December 31, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Humor, Relationships, Spiritual | 9 Comments

A Matter of Centimeters

If it had happened today, with the wet, slippery streets, it could have been a totally different story. As it was, it happened yesterday, while the streets were still dry, thanks be to God.

On my way home from grocery shopping, there was this kid who cut in front of me, but he isn’t just driving, he is also on his phone (left hand) and talking with a friend, and gesturing (right hand) and his car isn’t staying in the lane. In fact, he isn’t paying attention to his driving at all, too much going on in his life I guess.

Traffic slows, the kid drifts left and into the left lane and that car, who was passing, honks. The kid gets embarrassed, or shook, I don’t know what, speeds up and cuts in front of the honking car, and cuts back in front of the car in front of him (also in front of me.)

At the same exact time, a bus pulls over from the right into the left lane, and the car in front of the kid slams on it’s breaks, we all slam on our breaks and I am also watching that land rover behind me coming up fast and praying he also slams on his breaks. In the end, there are six cars stopped within two seconds, centimeters apart – and not a single crash.

Thanks be to God. And thanks be to God we are not carrying guns in this country.

December 30, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Kuwait, Rants | 13 Comments

The Great Migration (3)

Our trip started at the Grumeti River Camp and continued on the the Serengeti Tent Camps. We have filled our eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of the Great Migration, and have had the thrills of elephants, giraffes, lions, hyenas, alligators and vultures in addition. Now it is time to head north, to the Klein’s Wilderness Camp, located near Klein’s Wilderness Lodge.

The “airport” at Serengeti, from where we are flying, is a busy little place with one open-to-the-air little cafe and a toilet down a path with two stalls. It’s the bring-your-own paper kind of place, but it’s nice there is that convenience. The landing strip itself is just a cleared piece of ground where the little two engine planes land and take off.

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Our flight is larger than most we have taken, maybe 20-something people, most on the way home or to Zanzibar. First, they are dropping us off at Kleins, a short flight away. The landing field at Klein’s has a little antelope running across it when we get there, so the pilot circles and lands on the lush green landing strip. There is no one there. We wait, it is inevitable that a car come roaring around the curve any moment now, but no car comes. The pilot comes on the microphone and asks who the passengers are for Klein’s, and we raise our hands.

“I can’t leave you here,” he says.

We totally understand. There are lions around. This is a wild country.

“I have to take you to Arusha with us,” he says, “and I will bring you back on the next flight.”

I am not entirely unhappy. In the tiny little airport in Arusha, I found a vendor who is selling Masai textiles and raw gems at very good prices. He is Moslem, and astounded that I speak some Arabic. When I come back to his shop, he is delighted to see me again. (or maybe I paid too much the first time, ya think?)

I pick up a few more momentos, and head back for the airline departure desk, where there is a very loud argument going on over the telephone about who is to blame about our not being picked up at Klein’s Wilderness Camp. The Camp says the airlines never told them. The airlines say they did. It’s on our itinerary, which we have had for months, and we landed exactly when they said we would, but in Africa, you have to stay flexible, flight schedules change depending on where customers need to be dropped off. It doesn’t pay to get angry or aggressive, you learn to just go with the flow. Things will work out.

A short time later, the pilot takes us to the plane for the flight back, and whoa! We fly right over an active volcano!

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This time, when we get to Klein’s, a car is waiting and the arguement between Klein’s and the airlines continues. On the way to Klein’s, we are told that they were never told when we would be arriving.

Don’t you hate it when people refuse to take any responsibility? The airlines treated us so well, the pilot said he didn’t think it was their fault but he went out of his way to make sure we felt well taken care of. This is the only time at CCAfrica that we felt the camp was not well managed, and part of that feeling came from this continual message of “it’s not our fault.” We later learned that the previous camp manager had just been fired and a new manager was starting, and there was a lot of work going on to try to get the camp back on track.

This was another beautiful location, we were high up and could see forever.

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Sometimes, in the mornings, or in the late afternoon, the migrating antelope came through the camp. We could sit outside and just watch them file past.

Most of our days in this camp, we would leave early in the morning, have lunch with us so we would stop somewhere in the park, and not get back until late at night. These are the vehicles we travelled in, stopped for a break

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Some of the roads were barely there, were pitted, or rutted, or were raw rock:

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We spent hours watching the zebra herds, and the shy antelope:

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“How can you spend hours watching zebra?” you might ask. Every zebra is different. It’s particularly fun watching female zebra with their young. When they are born, the momma zebra insures that her little baby zebra sees only her coat for the first important hours of it’s life, so that the baby can recognize the momma zebra’s own unique markings:

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But there were other thrills as well. The nice thing about travelling in a very small group (most of the time just AdventureMan and I and the guide) was that you can ask them to stop while you photograph a beautiful purple flower:

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And if you see a leopard, you can just sit and watch him as long as you like:

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We rarely ran into others from the camps, but this Masai was accompanying another group:

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Among the thrills in this more northern camp were also the glorious birds. This is one of our favorites, a Lilac Breasted Roller:

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I’m not sure what this bird is, probably a common starling. His fluorescent coloring attracted my eye. AdventureMan says that the fluorescent coloring happens a lot in birds which eat excrement, but he is not sure that is true, just what he thinks he remembers:

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We love travelling with CCAfrica. They specialize in eco-tourism, like the Robin Pope Safari Camps we travel with in Zambia. Our all time favorite safari with them was The Hemingway, a 14 day safari through Botswana, starting in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls, heading south to Chobe and Moremi, Savute, the Okavango and then flying into the Kalahari. It was an all-time thrill. If January is a little slow for you and you want to read about the Hemingway Safari you can click on that blue type and it will take you to the first entry – of thirteen! I wrote it up back when I was first blogging, sort of as a discipline for myself to get it all down in writing. There aren’t a lot of photos – I wasn’t digital then – but it is a very thorough description of a trip-of-a-lifetime safari.

Even though they don’t seem to offer this particular safari anymore, CCAfrica will tailor any safari you want to your specifications. What we loved about the Hemingway was that so much of it was under canvas, so we would be sleeping right out among the animals – and listening all night.

A warning – none of these safaris are for people who HATE getting up early. The game is active in early early morning and late afternoon, so most camps get you up at 5:30 – 6:00 so you can grab a quick cup of coffee and bite to eat and then run for the jeeps/vehicles that will take you out to see the game. It can be very cold on an early morning game run, but oh – the thrills! It is SO worth it! You come back late morning, have your mid-day meal, which in these camps is always amazing, and then you have quiet time in the heat of the afternoon, when you can catch up on those zzZZZZZZZzzzzz’s you missed out on in the early morning. You wake up refreshed, ready for afternoon tea and your afternoon/evening game drive. They feed you and feed you – but we never gain weight on these trips, maybe because you are rocking around over the rough roads all day.

And, when the trip is over, and you are ready for a few days of sloth and luxury before you return to the real world, there is no better spot for transitioning than the CCAfrica private island hideaway of Mnemba, a place we dream about on a cloudy dark day in Kuwait:

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That is Mnemba island in the background, viewed from the beach in Zanzibar. You take a boat to get there, and when you land, you land barefoot. You never put your shoes on the entire time you are there. It is beautiful, secluded, luxurious and infinitely private. You can have all your meals in your own banda, if you wish. They have their own marine reserve, a dive shop, snorkeling equipment and it is all included. They even have internet. 🙂

View from our Mnemba banda:

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December 30, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Botswana, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Holiday, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Tanzania, Travel, Zanzibar | , , , , | 10 Comments

What True Love Looks Like to Me

Here are three of my very favorite presents given to me by AdventureMan. I like diamonds just fine, and at the same time, I really am not a diamonds kind of girl. I worry about losing things like that. I’m hard on watches, I do things with my hands and I break things. Better for me are gifts I don’t have to worry too much about breaking, losing, burning, misplacing . . . all the things that break my heart about earthly treasures.

Every time I look at these things, I see love. These are presents that protect me, that might help me help someone else at just the right time. You probably recognize two of the items, the third is a wind-up flashlight, so that I never need to worry about batteries failing – when the light begins to dim, you just crank away.

Actually, I am going to share two photos, because while the first one is the one I had planned:
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This is the one that happened first, and it made me laugh because it also is about true love:
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AdventureMan knows what will make me feel safe. It may not look romantic to you, but it looks like true love to me.

Here is today’s challenge. Grab your camera – or your keyboard – and show us / tell us what true love looks like to you?

December 30, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Humor, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Pets, Relationships, Spiritual | 9 Comments

Sunrise 29 December 2007

It may look like just another sunrise to you, but I LOVE this sunrise! Look at that flash!

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December 29, 2007 Posted by | ExPat Life, Kuwait, Lumix, Photos, Weather | 8 Comments

Fresh Start

I always get a burst of energy between Christmas and New Year’s. Truly, for me, new hope has come into the world. It doesn’t have to be rational, it’s just the way it is for me. I get all kinds of old messes cleaned up, I sort, I organize, I throw out or I hem/mend/ cut down to make something useful once again.

It made the dark months of winter pass more quickly in Seattle and in Germany, where many days go from black to dark grey and then back to black again. Here in Kuwait, with all the sunshine, it is just so much easier. Every day dawns in blues and pinks – how can life be bad when a day starts so beautifully?

There is one sharp sword hanging over me – taxes. *gnashing of teeth* I am pretty good about keeping receipts all in one place all year, but taxes for xpats can be complicated, and our tax guy sends a worksheet – like 14 pages – for us to fill out every year. It really isn’t that hard, but I dread it.

Over a year ago, the US government changed the way expats are taxed. Even worse, they snuck it in as an amendment, I think to a military appropriations or budget bill, and no one was aware of the implications until it was a done-deal. It is a nightmare. In one year, we went from qualifying for refunds to owing a burdensome debt of taxes. Aaarrgh.

I have a list of projects I want to do this year, some challenging, some just fun. Some projects left over from previous years I want to get done once and for all. I see 2008 as a great luxury, all those days, an entire year, stretching out before me in which I can get these things done. Woooo Hooooooo!

December 29, 2007 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues | , , , | 10 Comments

The Great Migration (2)

After two wonderful days in Grumeti River Lodge we transfer to the CCAfrica’s Serengeti Under Canvas Program, with the first camp being a short drive from the Grumeti River Lodge.

We LOVE tent camping. We used to camp out of a Volkswagon bus across the US with a baby and a cat (now that was an adventure!), in Tunisia, in Jordan. Now, I still love camping, and I particularly love it CCAfrica style – maximum 8 tents to a camp, a huge bed with good linens, an indoor shower and toilet, brass water containers, all very Hemingway in feeling. I love having coffee brought to the tent early in the morning, and I love the quiet shuuussshhhing of the wind through the high African grasses. We have our own dining tent to the side of our tent, which is high on the ridge, or we can choose to eat with the others.

Here is a view looking out from our tent across the Serengeti Plains:

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There is one little fly in the ointment – to get in and out of this camp, we drive our open vehicles through an area infested with tsetse flies. I am terribly, horribly allergic to mosquitos and to tsetse flies, and of course they find me irresistible. I am totally wrapped up in local large cotton wraps called kikoy – I look like a very colorful bedu woman, all covered except for my eyes.

But it’s worth it. I take tubes of Benedryl2 with me and lather it on morning and night to keep the size of the bites down.

First trip out of the game camps we find gnus at a water crossing. No hungry alligators, but it’s wonderful getting to watch them crossing:
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There are only four of us in the Rover, so we can spend all the time we need watching the elephants. It’s always a delight to find a mother with a baby. The elephants are so sweet with the babies:

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Early one morning, we catch a group of hyena:

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Even better, as sundown nears, we find a pride of lions, catching the last rays of the day and preparing to hunt:

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I have one of the early Lumix models, an FZ10. It takes beautiful photos, even under very low-light conditions. It is small, lightweight, fairly fast, shoots movies as well as stills, captures audio, and oh – did I mention small and lightweight? It has the equivalent of a 420mm lens, in a small body. It is an amazing camera and gets amazing shots.

Sundown has it’s own rituals, with a stop every night for refreshments and a toast to the setting sun:

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We spend two nights at the Grumeti River Camp, following the herds, photographing as they drink, as they trek, but in truth, you simply can’t imagine the scale of The Great Migration unless you see it for yourself. At one point, we sat in the center of a road as thousands of gnu and zebra filed past.

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We sat for an hour, shooting stills and shooting movies, and when we left, the line just kept going. We were surrounded. Sometimes it would thin a little, and sometimes the gnu would start to gallop and they would all start to gallop and the sounds of their hooves would thunder on the ground.

Other times, we would be sitting, and we would hear the sound of the gnu just shhhhussshhh, shhuusssss, shuussshhhhhh, interspersed with the occasional “hungh? hungh? hungh?”

Watching the zebras drinking, all would be quiet and then all of a sudden one would twitch or panic or something, and then you would hear loud “SWWWOOOOOOOSSSHHHing” noises as they rushed out of the water. We loved the vastness of the Migration, the enormity of it, the huge, grand overwhelming scale of it all, but for me, it was these sounds that have stuck in my memory.

AdventureMan and I find these experiences nourish our souls. We feel close to God in the African wild. We love the sights, and the smells and the sounds. We love meeting the African people. When we get back, we can still sniff the smell of wood-burning campfires lingering in our clothing.

Next, we head for Klein’s Wilderness Camp.

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December 29, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Lumix, Marriage, Tanzania, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Christian vs Christian

This is just purely sad. You can read the whole story at BBC World News.

Unholy dust-up at Nativity church

Members of rival Christian orders have traded blows at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with four people reported wounded in the fray. Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests were sweeping up at the church following the Christmas rites of the Western churches earlier in the week.

Reports say some Orthodox faithful encroached on the Armenian section, prompting pitched battles with brooms.

Intense rivalries at the jointly-run church can set off vicious feuds.

The basilica, built over the grotto in the West Bank town that is the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ is shared by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian religious authorities.

Palestinian police formed a human cordon to separate the battling dark-robed and bearded priests and deacons, said to number about 80, so that cleaning could continue.

Read the rest of the story here.

December 28, 2007 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Living Conditions, Middle East, News, Social Issues, Spiritual | , | 5 Comments

The Great Migration (1)

Every year, thousands and thousands of animals roam the African plains, following the water. Huge herds of zebra, gnu, and antelopes make a grand tour, mindless of international borders. “Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?” Adventure Man and I asked each other, and decided “Yes!”

One of our favorite outfitters, CCAfricxa (for Conservation Corps Africa) offers special tented camps following the great migration, and we really enjoy travelling with them, so we book into several of the camps, and at the end, book ourselves into another of our favorite places, the CCAfrica lodge on Mnemba Island with more photos of Mnemba and Zanzibar here.

We overnighted in Arusha, then flew out of Arusha International Airport to Grumeti lodge. This is what Arusha International Airport looks like:
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This is where you look up your flight going out:
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The trip was off to a great start when we got to Grumeti Camp. The colors of Grumeti are red and purple; we go to our cabin to clean up and then we have lunch outside, down near a bog full of hippos, who grunt from time to time. This is our bed in the Grumeti Lodge:

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Two days at Grumeti, and oh what fun from the very beginning. We see huge herds of Gnu. Here is what a Gnu sounds like:

Gnu: Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh?

It never varies.

Gnu: Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh?

Here is what a gnu looks like:
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There are thousands of them. They know where they are going, and sometimes they go single file and sometimes they go in great bunches. We did get to see gnu (plural) crossing a stream, but the alligator wasn’t anywhere near and I think he had recently eaten:

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Here is something very cool. This is what the alligator’s trail looks like:
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The Great Migration also includes huge herds of zebra, and the males are constantly trying to keep the females from roaming off. So zebras will all be quietly munching grass and then one male will go heee-hawing around trying to keep other young virile zebras from making off with his females until one day he gets too old and the younger zebras can steal his women, errr, zebra-females.

Thousands of zebra everywhere. . . these ones are drinking while not 100 feet away, a lion is resting. He looks like he has feasted recently, and is not too interested in the remaining thirsty zebra – not right now, anyway.

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Next chapter: We go to the CCAfrica tented camps to follow the great migration.

December 28, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Local Lore, Lumix, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Photos, Tanzania, Zanzibar | 6 Comments