T.I.A. is a phrase I learned when I volunteered in South Africa a couple years ago. It means This Is Africa. This is Africa where things don’t always go exactly as planned or expected. It’s definitely different from the Western world, but that’s also what makes it great. The first night at Chogela camp, I was kept awake by a really weird bird screaming, which I later found out was actually a bush baby. I’d say that’s a pretty cool reason to not be able to sleep. I got to go on a walk with some Maasai as they practiced for guiding tourists. They knew a lot about the animals and the land, especially uses for plants because they use them in everyday life. They said that by chewing the bark of a Long Tail Cassia after a meal, “you could eat a whole cow” and not get a stomach ache. At this point I’ve probably had the equivalent of a cow in beans and rice thanks to our lovely cook Amina. If you hear a creepy kid laughing at Pawaga, it’s probably Amina’s ringtone. Also if you see the side of a building knocked down, it’s probably where the night guard Juma tried to run away from what he thought was a robber, but was really just Isacka waking him up. Isacka is the day guard at Pawaga. He can run like a gazelle and open bottles with his bracelet. He can often be found dancing around camp, listening to Shakira on his iPod. Our translator Felisto likes announcing the score during volleyball games, driving fast, and telling stories about his recent trip to America. Julius is our driver and he’s “supa awesome.” He doesn’t like snakes which is why it’s good he was gone when a Kenyan Sand Boa slithered under my feet during a bonfire the other night. It was a really cool-looking snake, and luckily, completely harmless. Rafiki is the camp dog. His hobbies include accompanying us on walks and sitting on laps (which he’s way too big for). Chui is the cat at Pawaga. He likes following Amina around, and eating lizards and chapattis.
On the subject of animals, the wildlife in Ruaha is amazing. So far I’ve seen vervet monkeys, jackals, mongooses, dik-diks, ostriches, baboons, buffalo, monitor lizards, rock hyrax, crocodiles, hippos, impala, zebra, giraffes, snakes, tons of birds, lions, and elephants. One day we saw 84 elephants, and that was below average. I didn’t realize how big Ruaha was until Julius told me it’s a 12 hour drive from one side to the next, and we basically have the whole park to ourselves. The villagers are excited to see all the animals, including you. They are just as interested in observing and taking pictures of you as they are in the wildlife. Especially in the rural parts of Tanzania, white people are a rare sight. A lot of kids will yell and wave excitedly when they see you, but I’ve had babies cry and run away. Either reaction makes me smile. This is Africa, and I’m just happy to be here.