In the afternoon we break off. Laly to work, Buddy to manage more projects, Christy to take photos of Noloholo, Andrew to test out the internet, and myself to unpack, journal and read “The Tree Where Man Was Born” by Peter Mattheissen, incomparable author of “The Snow Leopard.” It is a delicious day, for I can also watch the birds coming to bath and drink out of a couple of rocks placed there for the purpose . They are all new birds to me and I wish I had help identifying them!
Before long, the afternoon has disappeared. We’ve met a number of the staff already: Tuma, the cook; Maxy, the foreman of the camp; Rashid, the construction overseer; Cheena, the carpenter; Neo, the education program manager. The lock on my door handle was broken and Cheena went to fix it.. when I came back to my room he was sitting outside with a friend just waiting. As soon as I showed up and proved it was working, he gave me the thumbs up and strolled off.
Laly and Buddy say that Sunday is half-work and half-play. The end of the day is play for all of us. Along with the Hadsabe trackers (a trio of tough, but diminutive men), we go out in the pickup for a “game drive.” This means we’re out looking for wildlife! We spot some cool birds on the way out: hornbills, lovebirds and some kind of fowl, and then we’re on to the real stuff. First a herd of zebra, followed by impala and then a treat: a small group of buffalo. The buffalo are some of the darkest, most fearsome animals in the bush, mostly because they can be quite aggressive and quite stupid – they will gladly charge, trample and gore you with their obsidian-colored horns. Fortunately, they’d rather just run away. We see many more herds of impala and zebra, a second group of buffalo that also wheels away down the hill. We spot kudu (a stag-like animal but with pale striping on its lower half), warthog (think Lion King) and an enormous crested eagle. The trackers are amazing, spotting animals far in the distance that look like stones to me. At one point we even sight, on a distant hill, ostrich grazing big-bodily amongst zebra.
The sensation of being in a truck that can drive around in the grasslands, with the vast steppe before me, and huge-thorned acacias, massive euphorbia and knee-high termite mounds spattered in between, not to mention the cell-tower-capped hills that rise up in the distance, remind me that this is not home. We may have come from here long ago, but I feel no sense of belonging and familiarity like I did last summer in Northeast China. And yet this is also home. When I see the herds of zebra canter away, and impala whisking their featherduster tails before they spring off into the distance, I realize that these animals are the essence of wildness. In this part of Tanzania, they go where they will, and no fences will block them. It is achingly beautiful; I feel suddenly that even in my own country the deer should be running free like this, and that we should be so lucky as to be connected, like the trackers with us, to the ways of the world around us.
At the same time, the reason I am here is because there are too many people living on this land. The Maasai are growing in population all the time, their wealth stretches thinner and thinner, and those who are children now will be poor if we cannot help them now. How can we weave conservation together with economic growth, so that they can live a good life and we can keep the zebra wild? This is the question I will gnaw at for the next ten weeks.
We return to camp with a near-full moon on one side, pale as cream against a lucidly blue sky, and the red-gold orb of a sun dropping rapidly under the ridge. Cold comes swiftly here when the sun goes down, and we hurry away to our bunks for a quick freshening up before dinner. Tuma serves us an incredible salad, French fries, a kind of oven baked chicken, and carrot-and-onion stir fry. It is delicious and I overeat. Off to check email and post yesterday’s journal entry, and then I make my way back to the dorm. The bush is kind of scary at night, especially after stories about buffalo, and I begin to rethink my decision to camp out for the rest of the time. It’s dark out there!
We will have an energizing day tomorrow, but breakfast starts at 7 and I’ve been having trouble waking up at 9, so it is much past my bedtime. I go to sleep, with dreams of zebra trotting through my head.