Monday, May 25, 2009

African Safari Part 2: The Big Game

During my last trip, it became a wonderful animal adventure. I finally took the time to see some big game. It is usually the objective for the traveller to Africa to see the Big 5: Lion, African Elephant, African Buffalo, Black or White Rhinoceros, and Leopard. These Big 5 are not the biggest necessarily (although they are quite big), but are the most valuable game for hunters because they pose the greatest challenge to hunt. Many of the big 5 are endangered or protected species now so mostly shot by the cameras of the tourist. Unfortunately, senseless poaching and killing of these and other magnificent African fauna still occur. I was able to see 3 of the 5 during my month long safari: Elephant, Buffalo, and White (& Black) Rhino.

They didn't make the list, but two of my favorite animals were the hippos and giraffes. The hippos may seem cute, but they are ferocious causing many more deaths by unwary travellers then the members of the Big 5. The hippos I observed at Lake Naivasha in Kenya and in Swaziland. In addition, I tracked down the warthog and family, white rhino, zebra, impala, heron, and other birdies.
Now my excursion over the borders of Mozambique to Swaziland was quite an adventure into the wilderness. Swazi is so small that it would take about 45 min to cross the entire country, but it has great heart. It is a kingdom and more than 80% of the population is Swazi. They have wonderful game parks and the culture is rich in the area. Tragically, Swazi with all its natural beauty is being hard hit by HIV/AIDS with 40% of the population infected. This statistic is the highest in the world. But the statistic in reality means that when you look upon a Swazi, he or she probably has HIV. What I always find heartening, is that surrounded by hardship whether sickness or poverty, there is still survival and there is still laughter in their lives. Through African eyes I have felt the strength and tenacity of the human spirit. If one can smile in a place where only tears should be, I have no cause to cry in the face of my complaints.
My reason for visiting this new place on the map for me was to go to Mkhaya game reserve that was a private reserve that housed endangered animals. It was definitely a back to nature experience with a luxury edge. There were no cats but plenty of other beautiful wildlife to see. Once you entered the reserve, you were taken to the camp which was about 20-30 min ride into the bush. At the camp, I was ushered down dark paths to my cottage which could best be described as a stone gazebo with a thatched roof. Literally, there were no real walls or windows. When you sat on the toilet you saw Mother Nature staring back at you. Lovely. The beds did have nets to keep out the little buzzing critters and a gate to keep out warthogs. None of the dangerous animals came to the camp though, which was good. You were aroused from your sleep at 5 a.m. each morning by a Swazi with a tray of coffee, tea and a bit of morsel on her head. There were three rides during the day to see the animals: morning, midday walking tour, and just before dark. I met some other travellers including two pediatricians from Ohio who were doing a 2 month internship in Swazi. They were fun. The meals were delicious and quite decadent. This would definitely be a must do if you are in the area.

On one of these trips though, I must check out the cats. Until next time, remember that you are only limited by you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

African Safari Part 1: Naming Names

Finally, I am writing down my experiences. I do apologize for the delay, but I have not let you down. This will be the first in a two part series related to my month long journey to five African countries (Swaziland was added to my itinerary for a fun adventure). This was a lovely trip for which I must be thankful, for my good fortune was consistent throughout my trip with no lost luggage and no delays on any of my 11 flights. Just to follow-up on my mosquito repellent purchase--just stick with DEET.
My first stop was my beloved Kenya well known for the Maasai—a semi-nomadic tribe found in various parts of Africa--and the Masai Mara—the vast park reserve in the Great Rift Valley where lions, elephants, hippos, giraffe, zebra, impala, and many others can be found (I will show big game in African Safari Part 2). The Masai people have become the well known and easily recognizable face of Kenya for they are a tribe that has shunned the garments of Westernization and worked diligently to preserve its culture. It is said that a Maasai that does venture into the more western sector of society will remain quintessentially a Maasai—with the same customs, minds, and behaviors of their ancestors. The Masai are a remarkable people with many stories circulating about their abilities in the bush including one traveler’s account of the Masai passing near lions with no fear and the lions giving them the respect of not eating him alive.


One practice of the Maasai called polyandry I found quite interesting: A woman not only marries her husband but all the men in her husband’s generation or age group. If a Maasai man is away from his home, another Maasai of the same generation can place his spear in the ground, enter the house, and have sexual relations with the man’s wife. If the man returns and finds the spear in the ground he will find another bed to lay his head for the evening. In this modern age of HIV/AIDS, one can imagine how this practice has increased transmission of the virus among the tribe leading to many deaths.

Many tribes have suffered on this account where their customs involve a man having many wives or where there is a sharing of partners. We may think that polygamy is a black and white issue with no gray, but there is more to it then the sexual fantasy of a male mind. One of the driving forces behind polygamy is economic—a man is producing his own work force and since several tribes are agricultural in nature having more people to work the land meant more food and more wealth. I am not promoting nor do I agree with polygamy but the arguments and the origins and motivations behind the practice can be surprising.

I did not go to the Maasai Mara but did find some hippos at Lake Naivasha which is about 90km outside of Nairobi. It is located in the Rift Valley and is one of the few freshwater lakes and one of the largest. This will be a place well-known to you if you have ever seen the movie “Born Free” about the rearing of Elsa, the lioness, by George and Joy Adamson in the 1950s.
It has come to my attention that the cute and adorable hippos are considered the most dangerous of African animals (if you don’t count the mosquito who I would not term an animal). It seems more people die from the hippo than from other animals like the crocodile or rhino or elephant. The hippo doesn’t even eat you since it is an herbivore but its massive jaws and body for that manner just can do you in one quick motion.
Speaking of trauma, I did get a chance to visit my surgeon friend who specializes in trauma at the Kijabe Mission. The mission sits within the rift valley and provides health care to people that would not have access to healthcare otherwise. When you take the drive from the main road to get there, you really can appreciate the blessing the health facility must be for the people in the area. They would literally have to travel over and under and through the “woods” to get to any type of health provider.
In addition to serving the locals, people come across the country and borders to be treated by visiting physicians and obtain surgical intervention for some quite traumatic injuries (bike and auto accidents, hippo run-ins, farming accidents, etc). Check out my friend’s blog for the graphic details.
The reason for the title “naming names” relates to mini investigation I conducted in Kenya and Uganda related to how persons are named. In Kenya, there were names that I would see repeatedly and I first I wondered if persons were related. This was not the case. A common name is structured such that you have the first name, the middle name, and the surname/last name. The first name is usually a Christian name like John, Susan, Joseph, Amos, etc. The middle name can relate to the time one was born (morning, after lunch, evening, night), season of the year, or based on grandparents names. The surname comes from the father’s middle name and can be the full middle name or a part of the middle name. In the Luo culture (the tribe Obama descends from), the following names are used for girls and just add an “O” instead of an “A” for boys based on time or weather conditions at birth—what would your name be:

§ Atieno—night
§ Akoth—raining
§ Adhiambo—evening
§ Anyango—daytime
§ Akinyi—morning
§ Achieng—sunny
In Uganda, naming was done a little differently. The surname is written first and the surname is not the surname of your father or even your mother. The surname is based on region that the person is from whether northern, southern, central, western, or eastern part of Uganda. The first name as in Kenya is usually the Christian name. The grandparents play a large part in naming a child. I found it quite impossible to determine relationships by just peoples’ names.

Learning the nuances of another culture can be a wonderful endeavor. Opening your mind to another’s world and way of thinking give you multiple sides of vision like a fly’s perspective. Learning and embracing different outlooks on the world we live in enables more efficient and extensive ability to process and respond to various conditions and circumstances.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”
George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, February 22, 2009

African Safari 2009

Dear Readers, it has been some time since the last blog communication. Do not fear for I have not abandon you or finished with my travels. I have just flown into Nairobi, Kenya to begin my African Safari which will include return trips to Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, and South Africa. This will be done in about a month. It will be a "safari" in the sense that "safari" means "journey" in Swahili as my friend informed me. This trip should definitely be quite a journey; and with every trip, I anticipate learning and experiencing the new whether food, people, culture, adventure.

The trip is already starting on a lovely note. For this month long journey, I am carrying a 21" suitcase, book bag (carry and roll), and a small purse. It is a proud moment for me and I feel quite efficient. In addition, I received a complimentary upgrade to world traveller plus on British Airways for transit from D.C. to London. I love the Brits and their airline--it is one of my favorites although navigating through Heathrow airport can be a bear. On my flight from London to Nairobi on Kenya Airways, there were hardly any passengers so I had three chairs all to myself--and being the petite one that I am, it was quite easy to lay out. It was the morning flight, but I heard from the agent that the afternoon flight is much more crowded for those thinking of travelling in the future. Kenya Airways is another airline that is not too bad and does give you a little more room in economy than some of the others.

It is my belief that you learn gratitude when you experience great loss and when you experience bad travel. It is the little blessings and comforts that you acquire that can turn a mediocre trip into an extraordinary trip.

On this plane for the first time, I took advantage of the in-flight shopping. I brought some decadent chocolates, 8GB USB drive, and a solar mosquito repellent. The latter is what I would like to provide comment. The item was obviously made in a place where the primary language is not English given that the instructions are not really instructions and has some interesting phrasing. The devise is a "hook type" with a solar panel and compass. The insert is separated into section entitled "Introduction", "Specification", "Suitable Use", "Conclusion". There is no information on turning the unit on/off, how long it takes to charge, cautions, troubleshooting, etc. Under specifications, it states "No battery needed", "Compass--to assist people (or student) to identify the directions in outdoors", and "Hook--can be easily hooked on any coat, bag or anything that you are carrying with you". My favorite is the one liner under "Suitable Use": "Holiday makers, camping, hiking, outdoor sports or just sat on the table". I am not sure who made the device since it is not stated on either the insert or the casing. This all makes me somewhat skeptical of its abilities, but at the end of my safari I will let you know if it actually works.

I just wanted to give you an update and a taste of things to come. Have a wonderful month in whatever part of the world you reside.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Inspiring Worlds

My latest trip was to the land bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest. It is a land still in recovery from the civil war that ended 16 years ago. It was colonized by the Portuguese which is the official language. In the district of Maputo where I visited, the locals spoke Shangaan.

It is a beautiful country with white sand beaches and river valleys under a sun you want to bask in forever. The prawns are fantastic and the people are welcoming. The country is making great steps in development and a South African I met in the travel industry said that Mozambique may surpass South Africa in tourism.

Unfortunately it is a country being ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic with 25% of persons infected. As mentioned in a previous posting, there are only about 700 physicians in the entire country of approx. 21 million people. Here are the highlights from my first visit to Manhica, Mozambique about 1 hour and 20 min from the capital Maputo's airport:
  • My stories from abroad can be funny but not really bizarre. I usually hear bizarre stories from my fellow coworkers. This trip I was presented with my own crazy and somewhat disturbing tale. During my second morning in Manhica, I decided to walk around this small town to take pictures and see what there was to see. I was strolling down the sandy road when I caught sight of an expansive valley with a river flowing through--a perfect picture. To obtain a better shot I moved closer onto a grassy ledge. Hearing something behind me, I turned around and saw a young man about 6 feet away saying something in Portuguese or maybe Shangaan. I gave him quite a quizzical look and indicated I didn't understand. He then moved to remove his penis from his pants and wave it at me. To this I was quite taken aback and firmly said "Nao...Nao...Nao!" He then shrugged and walked away. I am thinking he was asking for sexual favors and saw a young woman and thought he would give it a try. It was just fortunate that he turned away because I was debating what to do. Travelling alone as a woman is quite different and we have to take more precautions than men. It is not a gender equal world. A bit of advice: A friend of mine said that she watched a show with a prominent doctor that indicated that if you are attacked by a man to grab him firmly by the testicles and yank with all your might. It will instantly paralyze him.
  • The rest of my trip was not as eventful but a wonderful experience. If you remember my post on South Africa, I met a physician from Barcelona working in Mozambique, so I finally made a visit to the research center where he worked, CISM (Centro de InvestigaƧao em Saude de ManhiƧa). CISM was set up by researchers from Spain about 7 years ago and works to not only create a quality center to conduct research, but provides health care to the largest district hospital and trains locals to take on various leadership positions.
  • One interesting symbol of waste and gross mismanagement was a concrete stage built in the middle of a large grassy area. This large field was used by the townspeople for soccer games. The president was schedule to come to Manhica and speak but wanted to do so on a concrete stage. The large stage was built; the president came for 1 hour; and the large concrete stage remains. There are no more soccer games there and no where else to play.
  • Here in this country, the head has great utility to carry a variety of items some that are quite heavy. Our scull and spine are quite strong.
  • Working with the staff all week, I had not seen much of Mozambique and wanted to see at least one beach. Because my host could not take me because of his clinical obligations, he allowed me to use his car to go to Beline about an hour away. Mozambique has left side driving as was the case in South Africa as well (where I had my first experience in international driving). The main roads in Mozambique are good and similar to South Africa. It was smooth although the you must pass a lot which can be tricky. When I reached Beline, it was paradise on earth. It is a lagoon and I stayed at a lodge where you took a speed boat across the water. The lodge consisted of little cottages which were divine. In the morning after sunrise (which I missed since it was at 4:30 a.m. in the morning), I took at 20 min walk to the Indian Ocean where there was a beach undisturbed with crabs at play in the waves. It was a restful and lovely time and a wonderful gift. Interestingly, this was not the best beach. There is still much to see.
This was another one of those tastes of a culture where you want to experience more. Hopefully I can do so this coming year. Mozambique inspires verse and song so I leave you with both.

The World I Offer You
The world I offer you, sweetheart,
has the beauty of an assembled dream.
Here men are believers -
not in gods and other things without sense
but in truths which are pure
and revolutionary,
so beautiful and so humane
that men accept
to die
for these truths to live.
It is this belief, it is these truths
that I have
to offer you.
Here tenderness is not conceived
in bed chambers.
It is a hard, violent, bitter tenderness
born in the tough harshness of the struggle,
in the long marches,
in the waiting days.
It is this tenderness, harsh and bitter
that I have
to offer you.
Here do not grow roses.
The weight of boots crushed the flowers
along the paths.
Here grow maize, cassava, beans
born of men’s efforts
to forestall hunger.
It is this absence of roses,
this effort, this hunger
that I have
to offer you.
Here children don’t grow old,
their smile is eternal,
they play with the sun, the wind,
with the rain and grasshoppers,
with real guns
with bits of grenades.
It is this child’s eternal smile, this sun,
these real guns
(with which I also played)
that I have
to offer you.
The world in which I fight
has the beauty of an assembled dream.
It is this fight, sweetheart, this dream
that I have
to offer you.
Jorge Rebelo (1967)

A Song for Mozambique/Poem Sea of Faces