Africa Diary-Musings From The Savannah

I am not particularly inspired to write anything actually but funnily I have guilt pangs if I haven’t scribbled something in a long time. It’s one of my active vocations and seems to me that if I don’t pursue it, I might lose some personal sense of identity. This fear is remarkable, because it isn’t even a real fear. My writing doesn’t support me financially or professionally, that not doing it might cause me any measurable hardship. It’s a purely personal gratification and validation which reinforces to me suitably that my thinking faculties aren’t dormant yet. This self belief is the quintessence of our life.
I recently went on a holiday to the exotic Kenya and Zanzibar. It was obviously a wildlife trip focusing at the Masai Mara National Reserve with some surf and sand in Zanzibar. Being a non-naturalist and non-wildlife enthusiast, let me tell you it was still an absolutely sensational experience to see the wild and beautiful beasts in the Savannah of the Mara Reserve. It’s a thrill of another sort when you suddenly catch the majestic lion with its full mane devouring a fresh kill. The anticipation of one of those Nat Geo moments literally keeps you on tenterhooks. The adrenaline of locking eyes with a handsome leopard, peering through his amber eyes straight at you is unforgettable. Or the pandemonium that a lone black rhino could create, making the hartebeests, impalas and topis to sprint and leap through the grassland remains vivid with life. The land migration of tens of thousands of wildebeests walking in perfect queues, except for the few miscreants, is incredulously mesmerizing. The entire landscape dotted with these creatures for miles, is a sight I had previously watched only on Discovery channel. Beholding it with my own eyes was a different spectacle altogether.
The majestic lion with his fresh breakfast of wildebeest
The beguiling amber eyes 
The mass migration of wildebeests

 There are some truly amazing memories of this trip, which are flooding me now and fighting for space in my posterity. The vastness and rawness of the landscape is overwhelming at first sight. Sauntering next to the magnificent giraffes and gorgeous zebras on the walking safari in Crescent Island makes you love them, while the gazelles and impalas are the daintiest and most curvaceous beings you will see beating the likes of Shakira and Gwyneth Paltrow hands down. The wonderment of seeing the animals up and close in their natural habitat (though unnaturally invaded by human beings of course) is an experience you really savour after having lived it. The rock climbing and trek through the gorges and canyon at Hell’s Gate National Park was so much fun. The sheer scale and uniqueness of nature is riveting, almost driving the point of man’s diminutiveness against the natural. But surprisingly, I wasn’t really inspired to put this trip into a travelogue until I typed in the first paragraph. And somehow in the course of writing, it seemed essential to treasure every detail into words.

A sight truly beautiful
However, there was a certain incident during the trip that twitched my mind and got into a mental note. On the last stretch towards the Masai Mara National Reserve, the tar road gradually disappears and the four-wheel drive really comes into play over this beaten terrain. As we were trundling in the jeep, a loud screech of the tyre jolted the vehicle and us.  We had a problem!! Okay nothing major, but there in the middle of nowhere amidst clouds of dust even a flat tyre seemed such a hassle. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise…
Standing there while the tyre was getting fixed, a group of young Maasai teenagers came by. “Maasais” are the native tribe and poster people of Kenya standing out in their bright red robes. They gave us amused looks and we did the same. Finally the ice was broken by waving arms and with the Swahili greeting of “Hujambo”. We had picked up a few local phrases by then. As the interaction progressed, more teenagers and kids joined the scene and by then the conversation had switched into lucid English. It wasn’t a surprise that English was a widely known language amongst the country’s urban population, given its heavy touristy appeal and colonial history. But I was honestly zapped, to see those native kids in the remote villages of still-developing Kenya converse in perfect English. We talked about their homes, families, cultures, their love for animals and regular sightings of wild cats around their dwellings.
It was interesting to realize how the animals, for which we travel across continents, are assimilated as part of their daily lives. Another interesting thing I noticed was the hair of the Maasai girls. They are cropped as short as the boys.  This was hugely contrasting to the elaborate braided hairstyles of the city girls. When I asked the girls about it, they said it was their culture to keep the hair short no matter how much they adorned themselves in lady-like beaded jewellery. By then my son had gotten into a ball game with the younger kids, while my husband found a Chelsea team lover in Lucas who was keenly aware of every football progress happening in the world. I was genuinely wide-eyed at that. How the hell do they know so much when the basic infrastructures are still missing from their lives and the way of life is far-flung? But to my pleasant distraction, a Maasai granny all giggly and excited had arrived on the scene with her hidden wares. After some animated gestures between us, she showed me a simple but pretty yellow necklace. And for some reason I felt compelled to buy it, didn’t even have the heart to haggle with her much, so there it was around my neck. I don’t think I could have had any more authentic, original or interesting cultural experience with the Maasais on any organised village tour as I had there on the wayside of that dusty trampled path.
Our Maasai friends
We clicked pictures with them, said our Swahili byes and left a box of Indian mathrisand cricket ball for them. In those moments, I felt a genuine emotion which is neither cooked up nor exaggerated for melodramatics. I felt…no matter how incredibly and massively different we all might be in race, culture, beliefs or religion living across seven continents, there is a common human blood that undeniably binds us all. The futility and crassness of waging wars and killing each other only seemed bizarrely heightened. There we were, amused, observant and appreciative of our differences. It was pretty simple at that level. Couldn’t our world and we retain this simplicity or will we unflinchingly continue to regress to the basal instinct of power hungriness?
 As the journey progressed, my thought was only gaining conviction.  We were now in the beautiful island of Zanzibar and had chosen to stay in the old town part of the city called the Stone town. As we drove into the city, its Islamic culture was evident all around us in sights, smells and sounds. It was a bustling old town market place with women in abayas and men in skull caps. But as we navigated through the hordes and traffic to locate our hotel, it lead us to a very different setting. Stone town is all about narrow alleys and strolling your way through them, admiring the ramparts of a bygone era with its Moorish architectural influence. The crowd was suddenly a melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities (of course most being tourists) with little cafes, bistros and inns lining the streets. There were equal numbers of women in abayas as were in shorts.
The vibe was that of an unhurried day. We sat down for a languorous first lunch in a Spanish Taperia, run by a Spaniard who came to Zanzibar and didn’t return. The next day we lay on the white sands against the turquoise waters, sipping Sangria in an Italian’s beach shack. While Haji, a local operator took us snorkelling the third day and refrained from drinking on religious grounds. The human connect only seemed to run deeper. Here was a place as are many others, where the natives were still holding their traditions and heritage with pride but a whole new set of people had been accommodated seamlessly within them who chose to respect each other. Each could retain and evolve his individuality while accepting the other’s as well.  Harmonious living without clash of interest or beliefs seemed very easy in those moments.
The surf, the sand, the sangria at the Nungwi beach. Life doesn’t get any better !!
That’s where my conviction in the human connect resurrects itself despite the gory reality of our times trying to slay it.  I believe that everything that can possibly be evil, wrong and unjust has been happening in our world since recorded history, yet the world survives. Only to prove that there still exist enough neutrality and goodness, the collectiveness of which is not letting the world topple just yet. I can only think of John Lennon’s classic here, “You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, And the world will be as one…” Amen.
A trip is probably about seeing sights, eating food, laughing loud and making memories while a journey is about thinking, understanding and seeing beyond the sights. When both combine, a travelogue is compellingly born out of me.
Photo Credits: Abhishek Mimani (my best half)