A herd of Maasai Giraffes Drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Central Serengeti September 20, 2017

A herd of Maasai Giraffes Drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Central Serengeti September 20, 2017

We are in Maasai country. When I think of the Maasai, I think of the National Geographic photojournalism stories that I saw on our coffee table as a child growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I recall looking at the images of tall dark brown men in red shukas wearing beautiful beaded jewelry and carrying long spears. Even as an adult, I made the assumption that these tribal villages are in remote lands where foreigners are not welcome, if for no other reason than that there are no roads that lead you to such villages. I was surprised to drive past villages that resemble the images I have seen produced by National Geographic; women carrying water on their heads, men herding cattle, children carrying goats. I came to a couple of realizations. First, I am in a remote land. Second, this is how the Maasai live.

I learned that the Maasai tribe takes pride in maintaining its cultural traditions. We drive past huts and indeed we see tall men wearing red shukas. This is culture and tradition. This is not poverty. (I have conflicting ideas about this- but am trying to address is as it relates to cultural relativism.) I learned that the Maasai have a polygamous culture. The husband has a compound with his own hut. Within the compound, each of the wives has a hut that she shares with her children. There are frequently fences around the perimeter of the compound. These compounds are beautiful. They appear to be built with intention. They are spread out over the vast landscape, with only land and cattle in between each compound area.

The young Maasai boys tend the cattle. They run towards the road as safari vehicles approach to ask foreigners to take their picture in exchange for money. They ask for food and water. We are told not to positively reinforce their begging by falling for their antics. This is hard to do.

At times the young shepherds lead their livestock to the road at the exact time we cross. This happens frequently enough to know that it is a calculated inconvenience and not a mere coincidence. These children are the same age as the middle school students I taught at Journeys. Could their lives be any more different?

We are in between villages when someone spots a giraffe. Alex obliges to our request to pull over so we can view it. As our eyes adjust to the scenery, we come to see that there are in fact 18 giraffes. Giraffe social structures are unique. They are part of a herd, but the herd does not have an established hierarchy. Nonetheless, they stick together. We watch this herd of 18 travel at a brisk pace together. Meanwhile, Alex has a charming conversation in Swahili with the young shepherd that has approached the Land Cruiser. We know it is charming because of their body language. Alex smiles, which is normal for him, but the child beams back and joins him in laughter. There is another child near the vehicle. He lingers near my window. I greet him in his own language, he does not respond. He sneaks shy glances at me and in our vehicle. I’m intrigued by him. What is his name? How old is he? What is his story? I feel so limited by my lack of knowledge of the local language.

As we drive away, Alex reports that the child with whom he conversed discussed how the children first saw the herd of giraffes. I am relieved to hear that the conversation was about the animals, and that his was not another child beggar. I am not surprised in the least to learn that Alex listened to the young boy and encouraged his excitement about wildlife. I am hopeful that the young boys will become stewards of the natural world around them.

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Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Ngorongoro Crater: September 20, 2017

It is our second day in the Crater. Unbeknown to us, Alex has planned a surprise. We are the first Land Cruiser to arrive at the hippo pool. I giggle and smile as I watch these surpassingly loud animals.

By my standards, hippos are the smartest of all of the African animals. They stay in the water during the day, floating, walking, and sleeping. During the night, or when they are hungry during the day, they stray from the water to eat grass. They walk slowly on land and stay near the water. Too much sun burns their pink and grey skin. When they return to the water they stay in shallow areas where their short legs can reach the bottom. Their interactions with each other are hysterical. At times they appear to be like a litter of puppies sleeping on each other in one big pile. Other times they seem more like adolescent boys trying to establish dominance within their social hierarchy. I am surprised by the ruckus they make with their vocal chords as well as the size of their jaws as seen when they yawn.


Mom, dad and I watch the hippos as well as the various bird species around the pool for quite some time. Other vehicles come and go taking their fair share of pictures. We, however, are captivated by this scene. Alex not only observes our desire to stay and watch animals but he delights in our wish to better understand the animals.

I believe that my experiences at Journeys School and with Teton Science Schools have contributed to my ability to thoroughly enjoy being on safari. I can’t help but think of the lesson Sarah Kate Gessford conducted at the Kelly Campus about animal adaptations when students got to create their own animals, sculpt them, and explain how they were suited for the environment. The students’ creations were colorful and playful, with insightful explanations. These animals also have creative adaptations that allow them to exist in this harsh environment.


The diversity of animals that can exist in this eco-system is impressive. I have fallen in love with warthogs! They are marvelous creatures to watch. Warthogs usually are found in pairs or triads. They prefer the lower grasses, so they bend onto their forearms to eat. This amuses me to no end. They appear to be rather skidish. Whenever anything startles them, they flip their tails up straight as though they are intenas and scurry off.


It is impossible to predict what we will see on a game drive. At times, Alex stops the vehicle, scans the horizon and points out a hyena in the distance. Other times, it seems like we are in a mysterious race to get somewhere- even though we are in the middle of no where. That is what happened when we saw our first leopard.

There is an open radio channel in the Crater that allows all of the guides to communicate with each other. Given that all the voices are speaking in Swahili, it is easy for Alex to hear something interesting and not tell us about it. We tease him for the secrets he keeps, but delight in the excitement of not knowing. We arrive to the scene; many vehicles have already lines up. The guides work with each other, allowing vehicles to maneuver to ensure every guest has a good view. Then we see her. A strikingly goregous cat. The leopard is walking down the road, as if on a cat walk giving everyone a chance to view her beautiful spots.

It has been yet another amazing day adventure in Tanzania.

The Big 5. Ngorongoro Crater: September 18 & 19, 2017

My feet have finally landed on Africa. I can’t believe that I am finally on this continent that I have dreamed of for so long.

This place is so foreign to me. My brain desperately tries to connect it to things that are familiar to me in order to make sense of it.

The best way I can describe the Ngorongoro Crater is as a combination of the following: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Crater Lake National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Hawaiian island Kauai, the Great Salt Lake, central Wyoming, the National Elk Refuge, and Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands. If you took the best of each of these remarkable places and mixed them together, you would get the Ngorongoro Crater.

Imagine it it:

  • The complexity of animal life of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
  • The geology and rock stories of Crater Lake
  • The colors of the Grand Canyon
  • The the natural wonder of Kauai
  • The salt flats and water of the Great Salt Lake
  • The wide open plains of Central Wyoming
  • The herds of ungulates of the National Elk Refuge
  • The unique species of the Galápagos Islands

In Swahili the word ‘safari’ translates to journey. This seems appropriate as this is an outstanding journey. Thus it is fair to say that I am on safari in Tanzania with my parents and our amazing guide Alex. We will explore the Ngorongoro Crater before heading to the Central Serengeti and ending in the Northern Serengeti. My parents and I have been planning this trip for ten months. After Tanzania we will go to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls, continue on to another safari in Botswana to explore the Okavango Delta, and finish our trip with a self-drive safari through Namibia. Our primary objective is to see wildlife, diverse ecosystems, and gain a deeper understanding of African culture.

The Crater is gorgeous. Seemingly dry and empty, it is actually abundant with life. Travelers often focus on seeing the Big 5. The Big 5 is the name given the the African animals that were highly sought after and most difficult to hunt. They are: the African buffalo, lion, elephant, leopard, and rhino. Each of the big 5 is majestic, although they range in their likelihood of sightings. More than anything I have dreamed of seeing elephants, my favorite animal.

Before reaching the floor of the Crater we saw our first animal: a solitary bull elephant. We rounded a corner and were greeted by a lioness with four 2-month old cubs. That was just the beginning!

It is our first full day of safari and we have already seen 16 species of mammals and 18 species of birds. This includes 4 out of the 5 Big 5. I am amazed that we saw a black rhino, the rarest of the 5. I learned that rhinos only reproduce once every five years. This contributes to the difficulties rhinos face in regaining their population size as a species after being hunted and poached for years. Although we have not seen a leopard, the last one missing of our big 5, we have seen more in our first full day than I imaged we see in our entire trip. This leads me to believe that every scene from National Geography must be true.

Alex has an affinity for spotting lions. He understands the king of the jungle, and knows its habitats and behaviors. Alex also has an eagle eye. Mid-morning he pointed out a pride of lions in the distance. I followed their activity for a few moments and observed two lionesses leave the pride with a sense of determination. Just beyond the pride there was a herd of wildebeest. I watched in amazement as the lionesses gained ground on the herd. Eventually, the first of the two came into striking distance and lunged after a young calf. The older wildebeest briefly attempted to ward off the lion before quickly retreating. The lion’s hunt was successful.

It isn’t just the predators that are captivating to watch. Each zebra has a different pattern of stripes. Upon first glance, they look like they are only black and white, but upon closer investigation shades of brown and grey can be seen. They have superb eyesight. Zebras frequently stand beside each other facing the opposite directions. This permits them to keep watch for each other while using their tails to combat the pesky flies. It also creates a small but necessary amount of shade for each zebra. My mom loves looking at the zebras. She regularly states that their tails appear to be braided. They are indeed fabulous creatures, very horse-like they also seem to have a mystical energy around them.

While observing and searching for such creatures I have created my own radio station. It plays in my head throughout our game drives. It lacks variety and is rather cliche, nevertheless I find myself whistling the songs softly to myself. Africa by Toto, the Circle of Life from the Lion King, and of course… Under African Skies by Paul Simon.

Amsterdam

Baby went to Amsterdam

She put a little money into traveling

Now it’s so slow, so slow

Baby went to Amsterdam

Four, five days for the big canal

Now it’s so slow, so slow

-Peter Bjorn and John

These lyrics have been playing on repeat in my head since I landed in Amsterdam yesterday. The thought of having time here prior to going to Africa was to help adjust to the time change. I believe it has also been a good transition for me to remind me how many different ways there are to live this life.

Our first stop was Dam Square. The photo above is of the Royal Palace. I had a ‘moment’ there. I was overcome by emotion. The thrill of being in a new place. The contagious energy of the city. The joy of having had safe and smooth travels.

My parents are my travel companions for the first month of my journey. Here we are in Dam Square. I am lucky to have parents who not only can do a trip like this but also want to. Having been here before my parents generated a “to do” list that included many Amsterdam highlights including the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijks Museum.

The canals are beautiful. Bikes line the streets and bridges.

This is the view from the Anne Frank House looking across the street. It is hard to imagine that as a child, Anne walked these streets. I found the tour of the house provoked many of the same emotions I have felt in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Patrons were silent as they walked through the house. I believe the house and Frank’s story have been shared widely to ensure that history is never repeated again in that way. However, I fear that Trump’s thoughts and actions about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has a similar impact on youth. Children, like Anne, who have nothing wrong are put in a position where they pay for things they cannot control. I am hopeful that we will learn from history and protect all children, from all backgrounds.

Walking through the Red Light district was hard for me. (Not only was it awkward because I was with my parents, but it was disturbing for me.) I couldn’t help but think of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This book explores the oppression of women throughout the world. Kristof and WuDunn make their points by using personal anecdotes and then strengthen their arguments with statistics. In Amsterdam over 900 prostitutes work in the Red Light District everyday. I can’t wrap my head around this fact or this topic. A sign on the street read, “Sex work is work” indicating that woman have the right to use their bodies to secure financial gain. However, there are power dynamics to consider. Sexism. Cohesion. Free will. Choice. Education. Opportunities. Once again, I am made painfully aware of my own privileges.

I loved this sign. “I Amsterdam.” It was extremely crowed in the front. My thought of capturing this sculpture from the back was to indicate that they are Amsterdam. So many people, languages, ethnicities, shapes, sizes… I love it!

This is the view from the street where our hotel is located. This city reminds me of Buenos Aires in many ways. It has a similar energy- a certain zest for life.

This is a short post- as I am to get ready for bed soon. We have a flight to catch first thing in the morning to Africa. I am still getting used to WordPress and am now adjusting to writing posts on an iPad, so PLEASE leave suggestions in the comments for how I can improve the reader’s experience.

Preparing for Africa

I intended for the post to be more detailed and time relevant… but life got in the way. Perhaps, I’ll go back at some point in fill in the details. If not, here’s a short version.

I sold my furniture. Packed up my belongings. With the help my dear friend, Erin Crow, I loaded a Uhaul and my truck. Then I headed east with my pup.

I made it to Pittsburgh, PA to spend time with my parents and visit some friends.

I also used that time to pack my bags for Africa. I have a 44lb weight limit to follow. The 44lbs includes my checked luggage as well as my carry-on. 44lbs for 7 months. Whoa!

Do All the Good that You Can

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John Wesley (1703 –  1791) was the founder of the Methodist church.
I was raised in the Methodist church, and although I am no longer religious Wesley’s message resonates with me.  It is a call to action, a cry for service, a request for compassion.

Wesley’s message has been on my mind recently.  How can one person make a positive impact in the world?   It seems so daunting when the daily news is filled with loss, suffering, and trauma.  Yet, I see glimmers of hope that inspire me. The follow story is one of those glimmers.

As the school year came to an end, I searched for a summer job.  I decided to work at a local restaurant called Nora’s.  Although I didn’t have any serving experience, I thought that the perks of a short commute, cash tips, and evenings off made it a great option.

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Go to Nora’s in Wilson, Wyoming and try their huevos rancheros.  It is delicious!
The purpose of getting a summer job was to earn money to put towards my work with Project Wezesha.   Working at a breakfast diner is far from glamorous, but I got to meet interesting characters and witness authentic human interactions.

I was working the counter one day.  It was busy as usual.  A man motioned for me to come over.  I had served him before. He was burly, in his 40s. He wore a black leather jacket with weathered jeans.  He looked the part of a motorcycle rider in a Hollywood film.  He had kind eyes. He whispered, “Do you know what RAK is?”

Now anyone that knows me can attest to the fact that all pop-culture references are lost on me.  Was this a band?  An app?  I didn’t know.   He explained the acronym.

Random Acts of Kindness.   Of course I knew what that mean!  He proceeded to tell me that in addition to his bill, he wanted to pay for the two people at a table nearby who he didn’t know.  He wanted the fact that their bill had been paid for kept a secret until they were ready leave and above all, he wanted it to be anonymous.

I was thrilled to be a player in this game of RAK.   It gave me goose-bumps.  It helped restore hope in humanity and reaffirmed my belief that people are innately good.

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When I think of this story and reflect on Wesley’s quote, making a positive impact seems more manageable.  It is a good reminder that being kind doesn’t always require an extreme sacrifice or significant gesture.   It can be simple.

What good are you doing in the world?

Need some ideas?  Check this out:  Random Acts of Kindness Ideas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Have a Situation on our Hands

Girl Effect We have a situation on our handsI am tired of the news; fake or otherwise.  I want to scream to all politicians and media outlets, “We Have a Situation on our Hands!”  It is time we do something about it.  It is time I do something about it.

Have you heard of the Sustainable Development Goals?   They set out to achieve three extraordinary things by 2030—ending poverty, combating climate change, and fighting injustice and inequality.  

Global GoalsIf the Global Goals are to be achieved by 2030 we’ve got a lot of work to do! We must turn our ideas into action.  

My personal belief is that if you see someone who needs help, help them. It is your responsibility to do so.  It is my responsibility.  It is our responsibility.

These Global Goals cause us to think beyond ourselves, to stretch out of our comfort zone, and to make sacrifices so that others can have opportunities to thrive as we have.  (I’ll leave that as ‘we’ because if you are reading this #1 You speak English #2 You are literate and #3 You have access to internet.  You already have SO much going for you!)

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It is my responsibility to take on the Global Goals and I am doing so in my own way.   My focus is on the following goals: #4. Quality Education and #5. Gender Equality because of my ability to help in these categories.  I can use my resources, experiences, and networks to make a difference.  That is why I am going to Tanzania to volunteer at a rural secondary school.

Global Goals #4
Global Goal #4 Quality Education

I saw this video years ago.  The Girl Effect: The Clock Is Ticking. I encourage you to take 3 minute and 4 seconds to watch it.  The video articulates evidence from a growing body of research that educating young girls improves entire communities.  

I believe in the Global Goals.  I believe in Quality Education.  I believe in Gender Equality. I believe I have a role in achieving these goals.   Join me in being part of the solution.

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Project Wezesha students hard at work on their studies.