Posts Tagged ‘African wildlife’

 “It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.” – Franklin P. Jones

Duma -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: The Power of Words  

In Swahili, the national language of both Kenya and Tanzania, the word for hello is jambo. It was a word we heard frequently, and one we spoke in reply, accompanied by a nod of the head.

I liked the word, and the acknowledgment of human recognition it implied between two people who did not speak a common language.

But on our third morning in Africa, one polite man used two words in greeting me.

“Jambo mama,” he said. Then turned to Kim and simply said: “Jambo.”

I asked Bilal later what that was all about. And he said “mama” was a term used to show respect to elders. While my vanity was a bit hurt, the respect offered me was appreciated. After that Bilal started calling me Mama, too, while Kim remained Kim.

I guess she couldn’t help it that she was 21 years younger than me and still a “hottie.”

Another Swahili word I was already familiar with was simba, meaning lion.


Big tembo and little tembo -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Other than those three words, Bilal’s radio conversations in Swahili while talking to other guides out in the field, was a lot of mumbo jumbo, which is a good old English phrase for confusing and meaningless.

Since all our guides spoke excellent English, I never had any reason to use any of the other Swahili words listed in my African travel guide, such as:

Duma, meaning cheetah

Twiga …giraffe

Impala … swala

Elephant … tembo

Kiboko -- Photo by Pat Bean

Mister … bwana

Hippopotamus …  kibuko

Rhino … kifaru

Then there is choo, the word for toilet, and chui, the word for leopard.

I already have a Texas twang that can sometimes be misunderstood, so I can easily imagine myself mispronouncing these two words, and telling someone that I had to use the leopard.

The Swahili word for beer, meanwhile, is prombe.  Kim and I, however, learned to call it Tuskers.


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 “Daylight follows a dark night.” – Maasai proverb

A group of Maasai women getting ready to dance for us. They live in a model Maasai community set up for tourist visits. -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: A Hard Life for Women

It was the opportunity to see African wildlife, lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes and all the rest, that brought me to Africa. Kim and I came, or so we have been told, just in time to get at least a tiny glimpse of the continent as it once was.

The poachers, the developers, the fur trade, the masses of humankind are fast changing Africa, with many animals pushed to the brink of extinction – just as the buffalo, wolf and other wildlife numbers came near extinction as settlers moved west across America.

And just as our country finally and wisely set aside land to protect American’s spectacular landscapes and wildlife, Tanzania and Kenya have created national parks to do the same. But the conservation efforts have had a devastating effect on the Maasai, a nomadic tribe that formerly lived and grazed their cattle on what is now protected lands.

The Maasai were once famed warriors of legend who fought all comers – both to maintain their hold on their lands and to capture more. Their downturn began at the beginning of the 20th century when the British reduced their holdings by 60 percent to make way for their own settlers.

And in the 1940s, most of the Maasai’s remaining fertile cattle-crazing lands were confiscated and set aside as wildlife sanctuaries – conservation efforts I applaud. .

The Maasai leader of the model community sitting in his home of sticks and dung as he explained the Maasai lifestyle to Kim and I. -- Photo by Pat Bean

But I also feel said for the the Maasai fallout, which appears to me very similar to what happened to our own native Americans when white settlers moved in and began to dominate our own landscape.

The solution to the Maasai problem, as proposed by the Kenya and the Tanzania goverments, is for the Maasai to give up their nomadic way of life and assimilate with the rest of the country. While it seems a bit heartless, based on what we saw of the Maasai lifestyle, I agree.

Kim and I often saw many Maasai men wandering aimlessly along the roadsides in the Serengeti, and many very young boys herding a few cattle or goats as we traveled. The women, however, were left to build their stick and dung homes, gather firewood unprotected in lands where lions roam, transport water long distances, and to do everything else necessary to maintain a very meager hold on life.

Not only is the Maasai infant death rate high, many women die in childbirth as well because of the primitive conditions in which they give birth, and because of the lack of medical help. .

Bilal was uncharacteristically outspoken about the “lazy Maasai men,” and frequently expressed concern for the Maasai women. Kim and I certainly felt the same way about them.

I know it’s presumptuous of me, who spent only two weeks in Africa, and most of that wildlife watching in the national parks, to comment on such an emotional ethnic issue. But it was part of the experience. And I feel strongly that it should be shared. .

Recalling those observations, and the emotions that even now they continue to stir, I unashamedly weep for my Maasai sisters.

Next: Bird sightings on the drive from Lake Manyara and the Serengeti

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