Several of my friends who travel regularly and prefer visiting different countries every year have told me that Africa is the one area they would revisit. And I think that holds true for me, also. The sight of seeing and photographing all those animals in
their natural habitats, without bars or rails or moats between you and them, at times is truly exhilarating. In 1993, I spent 15 days on a photo safari to Tanzania, with overnights in Kenya coming and going. The images of those animals through my camera lens burn brightly in my memory even today.
Tanzania lies on the southeastern coast of Africa, its land area of 363, 000 square miles making it slightly smaller than Egypt. Along the coast Tanzania is flat and low, but the greater part of the country lies inland on a 4,000-foot plateau. The highest mountain in Africa is Tanzani’s Kilimanjaro, at 19, 341 feet. The population is 30, 608, 769 is composed of 120 different groups. Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a per capita income of $220.00 annually. Agriculture is the mainstay of its economy; 84% of the population is engaged in farming, forestry and fishing. It exports coffee, cotton, sisal (used in twine), cashew nuts and cloves. In 1996, its imports were $1.4 billion, its exports only $ 760 million. Financial aid from foreign donors fills the gap. Tourism is important to Tanzania, and in 1997, 350, 000 guests visited the country.
The statistics for the continent of Africa are staggering: 51 countries, accounting for almost one-third of all the votes in the United Nations: 11.7 million square miles, second in size of the earth’s continents (behind Asia); 5, 000 miles long, 4,600 miles at its widest points with a coastline of 18,900 miles; largest reserves of untapped natural resources in the world; the earth’s largest desert, the Sahara, the size of the United States, and growing at a rate of 250,000 acres each year; the 4. 132-mile Nile flowing south to north through at least nine African countries; a population of some 500 million, about half of them no older than fifteen.
Anthropological discoveries on an island in Lake Victoria (1931) by Louis Leakey and Olduvai Gorge (1959) and in Tanzania by Leaky and his wife, Mary, have led many to believe that the continent of Africa is where mankind originated, some 1.5 to 1.75 million years ago.
The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 by the union of independent Zanzibar, an island off the east coast, and independent Tanganyika. As early as the 8th century A.D., Arab merchants on Zanzibar and other islands carried on a brisk trade with the mainland. Then, the Europeans arrived in the 15th century. In 1884-85, European powers interested in Africa gathered in Berlin and carved out spheres of influence for each other on the African continent, to prevent wars among themselves over territory. Zanzibar was declared a British protectorate
in 1890. Tanganyika, after 1886, feels under German control. By the middle of the 20th century, Britain began reducing its presence in Africa, and in December 1963, granted independence to Zanzibar. World War I terminated Germany’s presence in Tanganyika, and the country became a mandate of the League of Nations. In the ensuing 42 years, Britain discouraged European interference in Tanganyika, and in 1961, granted independence. An unsuccessful coup in Tanganyika led to the union of the two nations to form Tanzania in 1964.
In Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks, I stayed in permanent, completely self-contained tents, erected over concrete slabs. Zippers front and back totally closed me in. Panels, with screen coverings, let light and breezes into the tent. The tents are about 16 x 16 feet, with two single beds on wood frames, night table between and open clothes compartment. I paid for the unused bed in my tent: $ 100, 00 per night.
At daybreak each day, this was the morning ritual: John, my tent attendant, would call softly, “Hello, hello, hello”, until I awakened, when I would reply, “Jambo” (Swahili word for “Hello”). The young Masai would then unzip the tent the tent and bring in hot coffee. I would say “Habari”? (“How are you?”). He would answer, “Mzuri” (“Fine”). As he put the coffee tray down, I would say,
“Asante sana” (“Thank you”). He would nod and grin, and he left, I called after him, “Kwaheri” (“Good-bye”). The tent had its own shower and toilet. The previous day’s clothing was washed and pressed, lying on my bed after the afternoon game drive.
I had long wondered why African nations, after years of struggle for independence sank to bloodletting civil wars after it was gained. Preparatory reading for the African trip gave me the answer.
Fourteen European nations met in conference in Berlim, 1884-85, called and hosted by German Chancellor Bismarck. Together, they cut up the African continent like a Thanksgiving turkey, giving a piece here, a piece there to be the attending powers. Boundaries were assigned to countries without any regard for tribes or cultures. On a continent where loyalty to one’s tribe or ethnic group is of supreme importance, these arbitrary borders laid the seeds for much of the inter-tribal warfare after independence was gained. Only three of the S1 African countries have ethnic unity: Somalia, Lesotho and Swaziland. Congo, for instance, has 200 tribes. Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, tribal societies had developed political skills and kinship loyalty- and usually little interest in material possessions. The Europeans interpreted this disinterest as childish ignorance or lack of sophistication. Before the Europeans, Africa’s main exports were ivory gold and salt. The Europeans added human beings. From the 16th to the 19th century, some estimate a total of 50 million left Africa as slaves.
I’ve resisted the temptation of another African photo safari, for fear it would not match the magic Tanzania offered: the lions
talking to each other at night, the terrifying growl of a leopard, daybreak baboons loping through our village, elephants strung out in a circus parade, graceful leaps of the “Tommy” gazelles, disjointed gait of the giraffes, the hungry, savage look of the wild dogs. No travel experience can possibly compare.