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 “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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It's easy to see that giraffes are what help give the umbrella acacias their shape and name. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

“Each day I live in a glass room unless I break it with the thrusting of my senses and pass through the splintered walls to the great landscape.” – Mervyn Peake

African Safari: Runners, Wildlife and Thorns

When I travel from place to place in my native America, I try extremely hard never to get on a boring freeway. In Tanzania, Kim and I never had to worry about our driver, Bilal, taking such a wide interstate from place to place. There were none, or at least none in the areas we traveled.

We were lucky if the roads were paved. Their roughness prompted Bilal to joke that along with being our driver, he was giving us a free massage.

Which was perfectly fine with me. The bouncy ride was part of the adventure. And the slower we were forced to go, the more time it offered for sightseeing.

And there was plenty to see this morning as Bilal transported us from Lake Mayara’s Serena Lodge to the Sopa Lodge in the Serengeti. The drive took us from wide-open Wyoming like scenery through a misty jungle that brought images of Jurassic Park floating though our brains.

Wildebeest and morning mist on the Ngorongoro Crater escarpment. -- Photo by Pat Bean

One of the populated areas we passed through was Karatu, which Bilal told us was the home of many great marathon runners. Watching the area’s slim, black men brought to mind images of the Boston marathon and other long-distance races I had seen in which racers with such physiques were always frontrunners.

The misty jungle scenery came near the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, which was formed seven million years ago when the land was pushed up by volcanoes, then collasped. At the crater overlook, a Maasai salesman was immediately upon us, but Bilal suggested that we wait to shop somewhere that would benefit an entire Maasai community.

This hungry simba had his eye on a tommy (Thompson's gazelle). -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Zebra, cheetahs, lions, gazelles, monkeys, giraffes, gazelles, and other African wildlife were also on the sightseeing agenda this morning. We lingered the longest to watch a mother cheetah with four young cubs that stayed mostly hidden in the grass while the mother kept a look out.

Bilal stopped to show us the whistling acacia tree, on which grow hollowed nodes favored by ants. The ants create holes in these bulbous growths and when the wind blows over them the produce a whistling sound.

Despite the thorns, giraffes find this plant a delectable meal.

Whistling acacia

I found this information fascinating, but once again, our sight-seeing put us behind schedule. And so Bilal again put the pedal to the metal to get us to the Serengeti lodge in time for our scheduled lunch. Kim and I just hung on – and smiled.

Next:  The Homeless Maasai

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