November 6, 2017
Goin’ on Safari
At 5:00 AM, we were heading out of Kigali for a two-day excursion at Akagera National Park in the Eastern Province, a two and a half hour drive from the city through some of the most dramatic terrain in Rwanda. This surely is a country of a Thousand Hills and an agricultural economy that cultivates and harvests in dramatic fashion up steep terraced slopes of rich red soil. The drive also reveals a Rwanda very different than the bustling, sophisticated Kigali scene.
Barely 30 minutes out of the city, the villages and open markets that mark these areas are already busy with many people on the road. Most are walking or leading bicycles up the steep hills laden with huge stalks of bananas and burlap bags bulging with produce. They are all heading towards the market areas. There are also many people, men and women of all ages working in the fields that line the highway. At 6:00 AM there is already a great deal of work going on in these rural sections of Rwanda.
By 6:30, 6:45 we begin to see the children dressed in their various colorful uniforms heading to schools along the busy highway. We see a few children riding on the back of bicycles, but most students are walking in groups or alone as the sun is brightening the sky. We saw one student reading a book as she walked along. But we also saw children who appeared to be of elementary and secondary school ages without school uniforms. Some of them were helping adults transport the produce to the markets. Others were watching the commotion of the morning, some silent, some laughing and waving at the traffic going by. One assumes these children are not enrolled in school because their families have not been able to pay for the uniforms that all families must purchase for students, whether for the public or private schools. Universal education at K-12 is still a challenge for the policy makers in Rwanda.
I cannot help but think about the contrasting scenes of the past 4 days. The celebration of the Maranyundo graduates, their enthusiasm for moving into careers or post-secondary education, imagining futures as part of the new Rwandan middle class in which they exercise the motto of their school…respect, responsibility and leadership. In this early Monday morning scene along a rural highway the scene is of an agricultural economy marked by manual labor and technology of past centuries. Thinking about this contrast…the rush to compete in the 21st century with the stark realty of the agricultural economy in these rural villages one wants to believe that this brave African nation will resolve the economic inequalities that frustrate all our economies. But our own nation has not resolved the inequalities so apparent in many aspects of life. Can education be expected to resolve the complex circumstances of economic inequalities?
These are rather deep issues to consider in the early morning headed for safari in the Akagera National Park.
November 6, 2017
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” Karen Blixen
Out of Africa
There was something about being on safari today that made me feel as though I was channeling Meryl Streep when she played Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. I have always loved that film; I’ve seen it many times. But I don’t think I truly appreciated that film of the life of that remarkable writer until I had experienced the Akagera National Park on safari.
The word safari has such an interesting history, as do so many of the words from the colonial era that saw European nations bringing “civilization” to Africa. Safari is a Swahili term that means journey and came to mean a journey into the East African bush to either hunt or observe and admire wild animals. In Out of Africa, Denys Finch Hatton, the brash handsome British adventurer who became Blixen’s lover, included fine china, elegant dinner and Mozart on the Victrola as safari accouterments’. He represented the tradition of gentlemen tracking game for sport and creating a whole mythology about exploring the Africa landscape.
Our safari was for exploring and observing animals in their natural habitat, and it was amazing. The Akagera National Park had once been a park that included both Rwandan and Tanzanian boundaries in 1934. But after 1994, the park was redrawn to include only the Rwandan land. Today it is a wonderful tourist attraction and model of animal protection.
“No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it.” Karen Blixen in Out of Africa
Among the animals we saw were elephants, hippos, warthogs, water buffalo, giraffes, antelopes, zebras, baboons, three types of monkeys, and all sorts of birds. I can’t really describe how beautiful, how magnificent these animals are as they make their way through the day. Some are bold, fast and skedaddle away as they feel the approach of the Range Rover with its camera-toting humans. Others, like the giraffe, are careful, modest and can be so still that they are part of the landscape, literally. When I saw this stillness it literally took my breath away…and I understood anew what Blixen meant when she described the “aptitude of stillness” that we must learn in order to really be at peace, with one’s self, with one another, with “the wild.”
We did see something quite extraordinary that amazed even our driver and our guide. We saw a leopard kill an antelope. We caught the end of the chase as the leopard felled the antelope and took its face in its mouth. I thought the kill would be a bloody affair. Instead, the leopard clamped her/his jaws around the mouth and nose of the antelope and smothered it to death. It took awhile for the antelope to die. After that, we watched the leopard for a few minutes as s/he sat and watched us watching the kill. We rode ever so slowly by, not wanting to interrupt the conquest and leopard’s chance to eat the beast. Later, on our drive back to the lodge, the driver went by the spot where we had seen the kill. Sure enough, we saw the carcass of the antelope had been dragged to a space under a bush. The guide explained that the leopard would first drink the blood and then eat what s/he needed. S/he would take the rest and either hang it from a tree (although the antelope was pretty big) or hide it to eat another day…before the carcass began to smell. So that kill represented at least two days of food and the nourishment of the blood. The leopard would not hunt again until the antelope was finished.
“When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find out that it is the same in all her music.” Karen Blixen
And so our group of compassionate women from Boston watched as the leopard killed the antelope…absolutely still and fascinated… in awe, even, of the power and raw necessity of the kill. I guess we had been caught up in the rhythm of this majestic landscape. At one place, atop the crest of a hill from which we could see the lakes , valleys and mountains of the area, I thought I was actually looking at the whole world and all that it could teach me about space, time and truth. Karen Blixen described what I saw today exactly right…
“The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.”