Risky

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Taking visitors to see the sights can be risky.

Submitted: January 30, 2019

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Submitted: January 30, 2019

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Whichever way you go, getting to Tanzania from New Zealand, takes about thirty six hours of flying time. Our first time was from Auckland via Los Angeles to Amsterdam and then down to Kilimanjaro Airport. In those days, Kilimanjaro Airport was a bit worse for wear and KLM was the only international airline that was prepared to pay the insurance cost to land there. Not only is it a long trip, it still is also expensive. Nevertheless, a few of our friends took the opportunity to visit us while we were there, a chance for them to see some of the continent and to taste a little of what we were experiencing in rural areas.

The son and daughter of our good friends arrived, each with a friend, all nice kids and all in their early twenties. We met them at the airport, the flight from Amsterdam as usual arrived at 9:00 pm. The arrival process could be a bit daunting for first time visitors because the lighting in the airport was dim, not helped by the varnished wood panelling and the African officials seemed to blend in with the gloom. The immigration process wasn’t as strict as it is now, so I was able to help them through with a few words of polite Swahili. Once through and on the road home, the kids noticed there was no street lighting, the only lights they saw were other vehicles leaving the airport and the odd household storm-lantern or candle along the way. The main road was sealed but the four kilometre stretch of clay track to our house was bumpy dusty and pitch black beyond the headlights.

Mbise heard us coming up the track and had opened the gate for us. His appearance was also dim. He wore an old, warm, brown coat that reached almost to the ground and in the murk it was only his welcome smile that showed up. The kids soon came to know him and enjoyed his company. It’s easy to become a little blasé about our daily sights and experiences, so it was refreshing to hear the excitement in the young voices as they reminded each other of what they had seen.

We gave the kids a couple of days to recover from jetlag and to walk around the village. First they met our nursery workers who tried to make them comfortable and tried to teach them a few Swahili words as well as showing off some of their English. Local kids also came, most of them curious, because the young attract the young, especially the local girls because of their fascination of the straight hair mzungu females have.

We didn’t allow people staying with us to break our routine too much because they wanted to see and experience what we were doing. There’s a subtle difference in attitude among Tanzanians. Back home when someone knocks at the door, its often a case of, ‘Who’s this?’ With initial expectation its a likely nuisance. But Tanzanians mean what they say, ‘Wagine ni baraka!’ Guests are a blessing. So taking visitors anywhere, afforded them a welcome they wouldn’t see at home. At schools, the kids would invariably sing for them, or perhaps put on an impromptu role play – often poking fun at me out of me and my dislike for goats. Depending on the school’s finances, a cup of tea or a soda would be produced and if I happened to be delivering trees, the guests planted one each as kumbukumbu, remembrance.

It isn’t a proper trip to Africa unless you see the wild animals, so we took the kids on safari, overnighting in the Tarangire National Park. To reach half of our work area, we passed through the Arusha National Park and they saw plenty of giraffe, buffalo, zebra (at a distance) and the cute little Dik Dik up close, but there are no big cats through there and while there are elephants, we seldom saw them. On safari there was good viewing from the Landrover, Mags and I in the front, two kids in the back seat and the other two had plenty of room in the rear compartment with seats and the big side windows as well as the big rear window in the door. There were a few Thompson’s gazelle and some zebra by the gate and close to the road. The kids were amazed how smooth the coats of the animals were and how definite their markings were. We knew the first photos are seldom the best, but its natural to think you might not see any more, so we allowed clicking-time. While the best photos were taken out of the side windows with the glass down, it pays to keep them up as much as possible because tsetse flies bite right through clothing and the buggers really hurt! Of course, first priority, I had to show off my favourite baobab tree, the one with the hole through its trunk. Baobabs store water – upwards of one hundred thousand litres - in their soft fibres so during times of drought, elephants dig into them with their tusks in the search of water, but I’ve not seen another with a hole right through it.

It’s common to see groups of elephants near the gate and below the safari lodge and the kids happily clicked away at them with their cameras. We stopped beside a sandy creekbed to watch a speckled woodpecker with its bright red beak when I spotted a large monitor lizard basking on a rock. He was about a metre and half long, the biggest lizard the kids had seen!  He looked like a piece of weathered log, grey in colour but a second look revealed a green tinge from its small spots. We heard the squeal of a young elephant, so I drove to where there was a ford in the creekbed to find the matriarch drinking from a hole she had dug in the sand. By the depth her trunk went down, the water must had been almost half a metre below the surface, but she looked at peace standing there. The young elephant we heard was playing, running up the bank and sliding back down.

There are pluses and minuses of taking your own vehicle through a park, the advantage the safari companies have is they are linked by radio so if one spots a rare animal, they can let other safari drivers know the location. But on your own you are with people you know and you can stop and do what you like, mind you, you have to follow the rules which are all sensible; like not driving off the existing tracks and not getting out of your vehicle.

Leopards and cheetahs are rare in Tarangire so we didn’t see any on this trip, but we saw plenty of lions and the kids were fascinated in their size and grace. On the last stretch before heading back to base, I saw a tail flick near the edge of the road. I stopped beside it and the kids were quick to spot three lions feeding on a wildebeest carcass. The kill was very fresh. We watched for a while but a scrubby bush spoiled a perfect view and photo, so gingerly, I climbed out my window and onto the roof, intending to take a quick snap. Irresponsible? No doubt! As I turned to climb down, I found I had company! The two kids in the back had calmly opened the back door and climbed up to join me! I ordered them back immediately but told them to move slowly but surely! They quickly saw that I was quite tense, and they suddenly realised the danger! I kept and on the lions and the periphery until the kids were safe, and then slowly retreated the way I had come!

Had one or other of those kids been injured, I would have had an awful lot of explaining to do! It’s easy to forget that even though the animals are used to vehicles, they are still wild animals! Thank goodness wildebeest tastes so good! 


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