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Ammi Midstokke: Correspondence from the Serengeti

The sun is setting behind a cloud cover of blue hues as the greens and browns of the Serengeti fade to the monochrome of night. When the day loses color, the sounds of the animals crescendo into a bright symphony instead.

I have no idea which creature is making which noises, but the singsong of the lakeshore includes a host of cranes and a wildebeest that may be territorial – or just feeling musical like everything else.

I am wearing a thin wool t-shirt and obligatory safari-toned pants. If I had binoculars around my neck, I would fit in nicely with the rest of the Mzungu of the conservation.

It is rain season here, and so there are no crowds but I cannot imagine why. The animals are here and the temperatures – for an Idaho girl – are about as pleasant as one could want. It rains now and again, in fantastic downpours that we can see coming for miles, and then breaks into rays of sun so potent, melanoma is just a forgotten bottle of sunscreen away.

I purchased myself a straw hat from some basket and hat weaving expert Maasai women to protect my face, which is either going to turn out like a fresh chemical peel or tanned leather. I underestimated the glacial reflection as I worked my way toward the Kilimanjaro summit last week, an embarrassing rookie mistake for a mountaineer, and now am gorgeous tones of raw pink and scab brown.

It was worth it.

There is a market for something called “last chance travel” these days, and driving into the Tarangire National Park, I am acutely aware of why. This 2,000-acre park is the summer home of many of Africa’s diminishing exotic animal population.

In an afternoon, we drive the whole thing, along with Land Cruisers full of white people who bob their heads like gophers out of the top with their thousand-dollar Canons to snippety-snap a bazillion photos of a sleeping lion.

I secretly wish some pale moron would exit the truck so I can watch a lioness munch on him. Just once, let the animal kingdom win the battle, for they are surely losing the war.

I snippety-snap my own Canon shot as our truck clanks onward. On the radio someone said in Swahili that there are Timbo (elephants) on the lower river loop. Like people swarming a bar fight in the street, the Land Cruisers clunk and grind in a beige line through the mud so we can all get the money shot and feel like our safari vacation was worth it.

I am torn. Are we the problem or the solution? Our park fees go to maintaining the space and protection of the animals. But how did we get to this? Are we just ogling nature porn?

The reality is that these beasts are magnificent and witnessing them in their natural habitat is a not only a humbling delight, but a quickly disappearing possibility – unless you go specifically to see wildebeest, because my guide says there are over a million and a half and during birth season, they deliver nearly 8,000 newborns a day. Only 40 percent survive, but they form a kind of moving carpet across the Serengeti as we tear across the dirt roads and watch them scatter.

The zebras, gazelle, wildebeest, and Maasai goat herds spread in a chaotic explosion as we roar by. The children come and wave, and I think it is sweet until I hear them ask for money as we roll by.

There is a desperate insistence that reminds me of Indian streets and I am again disappointed in the irreversible cultural damage colonization has done. These beautiful people should be prideful and snub their dark noses at our silly ways.

Their rich lives and mountain views are far superior than any suburbia dream we’ve ever created.

And they most certainly have not necessitated conservation areas and national parks. I have more than Swahili to learn from them.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at ammimarie@gmail.com


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