Chicago One Day, Africa the Next

Ah, vacations!  Vacations play an important role in my life.  They have in the past and they continue to do so.  Seeing new places and faces, having time to refresh and rejuvenate, being enriched by nature. These can all happen anytime, of course, but they are more likely to happen for me when I intentionally block time for it.

Today I want to share about a colleague and friend, Carri Kaufman.  We met through the Chicagoland Chapter of ASTD and we worked together on the International Conference Planning Committee a few years ago. I am a big Carri fan. Carri recently told me about an amazing African wildlife safari she went on. As we talked, it sounded life changing. And seeing her photos was breath-taking. She consented to share a bit about her trip and even share photos about it.  Enjoy.

Tell us about the trip?

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In 2012, my husband, Allan, and I embarked on our big adventure.  We booked a trip to Tanzania.  I had dreamed about this since I was a child and had been keeping the names of tour companies for years.  Every Sunday supplement article on African wildlife safaris was treasured.  We finally decided on a tour company that specializes in small group experiences.  We had a limited amount of time – just two weeks and wanted to see more of an in-depth experience versus seeing as many places as possible.

We read many online tips and became well versed on the clothing, cameras, gear, etc.  We planned carefully as the amount of luggage is limited.  We also had to plan on temperature variances of 40 -50 degrees in one day.

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We flew from Chicago to Amsterdam and then on to Arusha, Tanzania.  We were met by our guide and then drove 90 minutes to our first lodge.  We were in the country for a total of 11 days; the rest was travel to and from Tanzania.

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We visited three national parks – that’s where most of the game is.  We also visited two villages and one city.  We did drive through much of the countryside on our way to different locales.

It was a fabulous experience and we think and speak often of the images, animals and people that we saw.

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What attracted you to this trip?

My father and I used to talk all the time about the shrinking habitats of wild animals and how if we did not see them in their natural state soon, there would not be a place to go as civilization encroached.  Fortunately, others saw this too and set aside huge tracts of land to create national parks so that the animals could continue to live and migrate, as they had for millennia.

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What were the highlights?

The animals.

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It is one thing to see animals in a zoo.  Even the “advanced “  zoos like Brookfield Zoo in Chicago where they try to create natural-like habitats.  But seeing not one or two zebras but hundreds all at once running is a magnificent sight. The same is true for the majestic elephant herds.

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We were able to catch the end of the wildebeest migration, the largest movement of wildlife on the planet. Literally as far as the eye could see there were lines of wildebeest.

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My favorite sightings were of baby animals.  It was terrific to see the mothering of not only one mother but that of the herds.  The little ones learned so quickly what was expected for survival.

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The people.

All the people we met were so lovely.  Yes, some were tour guides who made their living from being nice to tourists,  but they went above and beyond to be sure we could appreciate all that their country had to offer.  The street vendors and villagers all were living a life so hard we could not have imagined and yet they were so gracious to us.

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The land

The country is beautiful.  There were many places that were lush and green.  I did not expect that.  There were vast areas of open savannah.  I remember reading about that in geography books, but it is amazing to see it.  We were in a volcanic crater and elevated on hilltops overlooking valleys.  The vegetation is different and adaptive.  My favorite tree:  baobab.  It was just terrific to learn how humans have learned to utilize what is at hand to survive.

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Were there any cultural connections/insights?

Water is so important to life.  We know this intellectually.  It is different when you see people walking great distances – EVERY DAY in order to obtain it for their families.  We never went anywhere without seeing people carrying water – on their heads, in jugs and if they were lucky on the back of an animal.  The responsibilities that young children have are staggering.  They care for the animals and walk extreme distances to get them to water.

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They also walk very far to go to school.  We visited a school and it was quite an experience.  There were 65 or so students with one teacher.  The classroom had no supplies.  It did have minimal electricity,  but no books.

The children were very well behaved and they clean their classroom each day as the dust is so invasive.   The students come from many tribes all speaking their native languages.  To create a common bond they all learn Swahili which is the official language of Tanzania.  In addition, they learn English.

Our group brought along supplies for them as suggested by the tour operator.  We brought balls and Frisbees too as they have no equipment for play.  We brought pens and pencils – I even brought a manual sharpener.  When we arrived the children sang a song for us and showed a very cute folk dance.  They then asked if anyone in our group could sing or teach something to the children. I volunteered and taught “If you’re happy and you know it …”  The picture captured – “stamp your feet”  they all got it and it was fun.  I even threw in, “if you’re happy and you know it say ‘Jambo’ (hello in Swahili).

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These are the future leaders of this country and their future will be shaped by the experiences these children have.

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The art created is very meaningful.  Some, of course, is for the tourist consumption and some is the human desire to beautify what we use every day.  Dyes, beads, structures, all have a focus on form and function.

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There is nothing like sleeping in a tent and hearing the wildebeest outside.  Or looking up and unexpectedly being face to face with a tree full of baboons.

Lessons learned or recommendations to others?

Prepare for a trip like this.  Talk to people who have been there.  Find out what is culturally acceptable and how to get the most out of the time you have.  Choose a reputable tour agency as they can make or break your experience.

Thanks to Carri for sharing this beautiful experience with us. The trip and the cultural experience look amazing.  A trip like this is on my Vision Board!  Here are more photos in case you want to see!

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