[Maasai Country Drive]
The first morning from tented camp we drive through Maasai country to LAKE MANYARA, a small national part that the guide books say most safari outfitters overlook, but for us it is a perfect beginning. About five minutes after joining the good road we’re flagged for special treatment at a police checkpoint, and I hear Frank mumble “beggars in uniform.”
The officer motions us to roll down our window and introduces himself as Officer Julian. He is a large man, and it feels like he expects to intimidate us, demanding in a forceful but friendly way, to know where we are from. Suzanne and I, used to big-man police officers, answer him.
Officer Julian is not the first Tanzanian official to go all big-man on us, or seem perplexed when we don’t cower before him. “We live in Ghana,” I say apologetically. He thinks I say Canada, and I correct him, “no we live in Ghana, West Africa” drawing out the est to add emphasis. “Ah,” he says motioning to Frank, and the two of them step out to have a private chat behind the vehicle. I know this drill, I’ve seen other African drivers make the same maneuver. When Frank is back and we’re on our way I ask what the going rate is in Tanzania for a police checkpoint shakedown.
“Not much,” he smiles grimly. It always surprising how little the police in Ghana trade for their integrity. Apparently, Tanzanian police are similar. I know if I was going to be compromised, my fee would attract a premium. We’re on our way again, and rumble past a dusty, dry landscape and I think about types of bribes.
Was Officer Julian
- given a tip or gratuity?
- accepting a gift from the heart?
- charging a service fee?
- receiving a kickback?
- taking a baksheesh?
A baksheesh is a north African tradition where someone who has gives to another who has not. Its usually something small, like 5-10 cents, given to anyone who does anything for you, like open a door, check you in at a hotel, take your order at a cafe, exchange money at a bank… but I get the feeling Frank hands over more than a baksheesh, but not that much more. Maybe like Walmart, low price is made up in volume.
[Sue, Anna, Ben with top open]
Arriving at Lake Manyara National Park, Frank opens the top for a 360 standing view. As we approach the gate, Ben starts humming the theme song from Jurassic Park. Frank does a brilliant job of staging, introducing us slowly to the wildlife we will see, first at a distance, and then later up close. I’m not sure if it naturally unfolds this way, or he is brilliantly storytelling our safari, but either way we are drawn in. We will end up seeing huge elephants, baboons, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, cape buffalo, gazelle, warthogs, hippos, flamingos, lots of birds, and a black mamba snake that crossed the road right in front of us. And this is just the first day.
[watching a memory of elephants pass us by]
The word safari comes from the Swahili word meaning to journey, or perhaps from Arabic meaning to travel, but it is such an odd concept for me. Most journeys or travels have a purpose, but Safari seems to have its own purpose. In our case, to see East Africa’s exotic animals. Who of us Americans didn’t grow up reading National Geographic and watching their specials on TV? I wonder how many times I have already seen Lake Manyara, Tanzania’s “smaller and most underrated park,” according to Lonely Planet.
[the other wildlife in the park, the really dangerous]
Henry Miller once wrote “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” and I think we are each learning a new way of seeing thing and I would add, each other. We recognize these animals from magazines and movies or TV, but they were doing much more exciting things and it was viewed through someone else’s lens, a part of their story. But here, with us, Frank is unveiling our story, and telling it brilliantly. We feel the breeze, smell the mud, scratch at the dust, swat away the flies and watch these exotic animals long enough to get a little bit bored.
[even Frank does a selfie]
I get a kick out of watching our kids selfie pose with elephants, cape buffalo, and giraffes. When unexpected happens, I see brief glimpses of delight in their demeanor; a momentary respite from the backdrop of the crushing cynicism this millennial generation faces. It isn’t so much a new way of seeing them, more a reminder of the innocence they had as children and a shared experience of discovery we are all having together as adults. Like an outdoor museum in whih we can drive around, Frank is helping us really see the ever-changing exhibit of animals.
[the animals really do occupy the same area – wildebeest, zebra]
[Cape Bufflow shots, distant, up close, in the mud]
[Frank, our wonderful guide]
On the drive out there Frank asked us if we knew the “Big-5”, a task we fail at, even with some major hints. I wonder if this is his measure of our preparedness, how much fact checking are we prepared to do. When the best we can do is elephant and lion (including incorrect guesses: giraffe, hippo, tiger), Frank probably knows he can tell us anything–and we’ll believe him.
And this was day 1.