Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, we pray for the Diocese of Ruaha, in Tanzania.
We have such happy memories of exploring the Ruaha, and Selous. Many people visit the more famous sites in northern Tanzania, but fewer go to the more remote south. Wonderful people, we learned so much there.
Once a year I get to troll the internet looking for cakes. It is so much fun. I had no idea there is so much creativity out there, so much daring. I found a wedding cake that is tilted! Something in me loved it, loved the spirit of a woman who would marry knowing life is often off-kilter and messy.
I love white roses, so this year I have sent some to myself:
Come on by, have some virtual cake with me to celebrate seven years of blogging:
And here, an elegant combination of cake and white roses:
Seven years ago in Kuwait, I started blogging. There was a wild blogging scene in Kuwait, a lively community. Blogs were candid, and many were substantial, dealing (carefully) with political and economic issues in Kuwait. I remember reading and learning, and finally gathering up my courage to write my very first entry, and it has been a recurring theme, cross-cultural communication. I learned so much from my life in the Middle East, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. I made the most amazing friends. It changed my life and my perceptions utterly.
Of the three Kuwait female bloggers who inspired me to start blogging, Jewaira has gone private, 1001 Nights is a good friend, a mother, and an author 🙂 and Desert Girl is still going strong. Mark, at 2:48 a.m. is also still going strong, so strong that he has been able to leave his full time employment and operate on a consultant basis.
Of course, as any blogger will, I sometimes think of quitting. There are days I find myself with nothing to say, nothing in my life so interesting that I think it is worth sharing, not even a news story worth noting. So I’ve had to ask myself why I continue.
I do it for myself. When I started, I had a reason and that reason still stands. I forget things. This isn’t age-related, it’s busy-life busy-world related; we forget the details.
My Mother saved all my letters from Tunisia. I remember reading them and laughing because at three, my son’s best friend in his day school was a boy he called Cutlet. I know his real name is Khalid, but Cutlet was as close as this little American boy in a French-Tunisian school could get. I had totally forgotten, until I read the letter. So my primary reason for continuing to blog is documentary – just plain record keeping, like an old fashioned diary. Noting things in my daily life or the life around me.
Even now, sometimes I see a post written long ago, usually one of our Africa trips, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Zambia – will start getting a rush of stats. It thrills my heart. It makes it all worthwhile, knowing something I have put out there is helping others, even years later. Perhaps one day, I will quit blogging, but leave the blog up, with these informational articles.
My stats make no sense at all, one of my biggest stat gainers this year was a news article I tossed off about the prank on the South Korean pilot names after the plane crash landed in San Francisco. It just made me giggle, and I couldn’t resist printing it. It ended up with a life of its own, as many entries do – and you just never know. Someone pins an image and you get a million (ok hyperbole here) hits you never expected.
In the end, I believe that those who keep blogging do it because as Martin Luther once said, “I cannot other.” We do it because something within needs to be expressed, even if it is just some kind of daily record. I know it’s why I blog.
I started Zanzibar Chest in December, and could not get into it. It was interesting, but at first the tone was . . . I don’t know, maybe pompous? Something in the tone put me off, and yet I didn’t put it back on the bookshelves, nor did I give it away. It sat on my bed table while I attacked lesser works, more enjoyable fare. Then, one day, I just knew it was time to try it again, and this time, I could hardly put it down.
Born in Kenya, just before the rebellion, Aidan Hartley spent his life mostly in Africa. He skillfully interweaves three main story lines – the life of his mother and father, the life of his father’s best friend and his own life as a news correspondent.
This is not a joyful book. It is not inspirational. It is a tough, hard look at the people who cover the news, and the toll it takes on their lives. It is a story of drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of what they are observing, the comraderie of gallows humor and surviving the intensity of living through life-threatening moments together.
He covers some truly awful events. He covers the wars in Somalia, and in Rwanda. He covers Kosovo and Serbia. He is sent into some of the most dangerous and awful of places. He pays the price.
In his Zanzibar Chest, he takes us with him.
I will share a couple quotes with you, and if you are sensitive, please stop reading now. This book is not for you. It is almost not for me, except that sometimes I think we need to come face to face with just how awful reality can be to put our own lives right, to set appropriate priorities.
“I can’t put my finger on exactly how death smells. The stench of human putrefecation is different from that of all other animals. It moves us as instinctively as the cry of a newly born baby. It lies at one extreme end of the olfactory register. Blood from the injured and the dying smells coppery. After a cadaver’s a day old, you smell it before you see it. From the odor alone, I could tell how long a body had been dead and even, depending on whether brains or bowels had been opened up, where it had been hacked or shot. A body would quickly balloon up in the tropical heat, eyes and tongue swelling, flesh straining against clothes until the skin bursts and fluids spill from lesions. Flies would get in there and within three days the corpse might stink. It became a yellow mass of pupae cascading out of all orifices and the flesh literally undulated beneath the clothes. The tough bits of skin on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet were the parts of the body that always rotted away last. As living people, these had been peasants who had walked without shoes and worked hard in the fields. A man who had been dead seven days reeks of boiling beans, guava fruit, glue, blown handkerchiefs, cloves and vinegar. After that he starts to dry out into a skeleton until he’s almost inoffensive . . .
The dead accompanied me long after Rwanda. It was months before I could order a plate of red meat served up in a restaurant. I smelled putrefaction in my mouth, or in my dirty socks, or as sweat on my body. I imagined what people I met would look like when dead. . . “
These guys all suffer from Post traumatic stress syndrome, they deaden themselves with drug and alcohol, and they are totally addicted to the adrenalin rush their job gives them. Living on adrenalin takes a huge toll – on their health, on their mental health, on their relationships, on their belief in goodness. They are the witnesses to the enormity of man’s inhumanity against one another.
In another quote, the author tells us:
“It was impossible for latecomers to comprehend the evil committed here but the British military top brass were still so scared of what their soldiers might see and what it would do to their minds that they sent a psychiatrist to accompany the forces to Rwanda. Bald Sam and I were amazed at that. We laughed about it. A shrink! It seemed extravagant. But the truth is that we stuck close to that man for days. We said it was all for a story, but really it was about us. The psychiatrist, whose name was Ian, told us his special area of interest was the minds of war correspondents. I could see Bald Sam squirming with happiness at all the attention, and I felt quite flattered myself. . . .
. . . for years I did endure some sort of payback. I have to try every day to prevent the poison that sits in my mind to spread outward and hurt the people I love. Sometimes I can’t stop it and I wonder if in some way the corruption will be passed on from me to my children.”
Toward the end of the book, the author tells us how hard it is to give up this adrenalin-news-junky life:
“Whenever I see a news headline to this day I half feel I should board the next flight into the heart of it. I’d love to get all charged up again and I could write the story with my eyes closed. I’m sure the sense that I’m missing out while others get in on a great story will never completely pass. . . The sight of people committing acts of unspeakable brutality against others fills a hole in some of us. The activity is made respectable by being paid a salary to do it, but there is a cost.”
This is not a book I really wanted to read, but it is a book I will never forget. Hartley doesn’t spare himself in the telling of this tale. He takes us with us and shows us all of it, and all of his own warts along with the tale. Would I recommend this book? Not for the sensitive, not for those who don’t want to look at the dark side. Between idyllic sequences on the beaches near Mombasa, in the hills of Kenya and Tanzania, in the dusty deserts of Yemen, there are some very intense and bloody moments. This is non-fiction, it is a documentary, it is a slice of the real life one man has seen, and that to which he has been witness. Read the book, and like him, you pay a price. You carry images in your head that you can’t forget, and a sorrow for our inability to solve our differences peaceably.
(Available in paperback from Amazon.com for $10.88. Disclosure: Yes, I own stock in Amazon.com.)
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.
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!
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.
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
Some of the roads were barely there, were pitted, or rutted, or were raw rock:
We spent hours watching the zebra herds, and the shy antelope:
“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:
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:
And if you see a leopard, you can just sit and watch him as long as you like:
We rarely ran into others from the camps, but this Masai was accompanying another group:
Among the thrills in this more northern camp were also the glorious birds. This is one of our favorites, a Lilac Breasted Roller:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
Early one morning, we catch a group of hyena:
Even better, as sundown nears, we find a pride of lions, catching the last rays of the day and preparing to hunt:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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:
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.
Next chapter: We go to the CCAfrica tented camps to follow the great migration.
Magical Droplets asked for shots of Zanzibar, one of our very favorite places to relax.
So near, who would think this tropical paradise would be so close? Most flights from here go through Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Dar as-Salaam, but sometimes you can find a flight that goes Muscat – Zanzibar direct. So you get to go to two really cool places instead of just one.
If Oman is fusion Arabian, influenced by Africa and India, than Zanzibar is fusion African, with heavy Arabian, Indian and British influences. We stay at the Zanzibar Serena, only because we never seem to be able to get into Emerson and Green’s, a very funky hotel, every room different (and nice and large) and where you try to be for sundowners on the roof. It’s tradition.
To get away from everything, we stay at Mnemba Island, which has only one hotel on the whole island, run by CCAfrica. You have your own bungalow, which is as big as a small house, and all the privacy in the world. You can even have all your meals in your bungalow – your butler brings them. They do daily diving trips, and they have their own marine reserve with more fish than I have ever seen in one place, even an aquarium. The food is fresh and fabulous. You are treated as a cherished house guest. They tell you when you land that you will not need your shoes the entire time on the island, and you won’t believe them (the first time) but it’s true! The weather stays in the high 80’s (F) year round.
CCAfrica specializes in maintaining a low ecological profile while providing all this luxury. The bungalow is full of locally crafted goods, and the small gift shop is full of locally produced soaps, papers, textiles, crafted items. . .It isn’t easy to get reservations, as it is a great favorite with post-safari travellers and with honeymooners.
For us, the greatest luxury of all is privacy. Mnemba Island is paradise. Ahhhhhh. . . .Zanzibar . . .
I am a mosquito magnet. Adventure Man and I go to Africa almost yearly, on safari, sometimes walking, and we love it. But oh, the price I pay! Two or three times a day, I have to tend my wounds – putting antihistimine creams on my bites, which swell and throb and itch until it nearly drives me crazy.
In Tanzania last year, I had no sooner put some serious DEET on when a TseTse fly landed on me and bit me – right where I had just sprayed the repellent!
So every step scientists take to develop a repellent which will truly repel, I applaud.
Mosquitoes Target Exhaled Breath
The mechanism mosquitoes use to zero in on their targets has been discovered by scientists in New York. It is already known that the insects are very sensitive to carbon dioxide in exhaled breath.
Now a team led by Rockefeller University has found that they sense the gas using protein receptors in the structure extending from their jaws.
Writing in Nature, they say the discovery could aid the fight against insect-born diseases, such as malaria.
Read the rest of the article at BBC Health News.
I’m not ready to stop breathing! But maybe they could develop a gum I could chew that would mask the carbon dioxide I exhale?