Beyond the Safari Experience
I recommend taking a break from safari rides one day in order to spend time with the locals, who live amongst both the challenges and the beauty of the landscape. Singita Grumeti Faru Faru works in conjunction with the Grumeti Fund Community Outreach Program, arranging for hotel guests to visit communities and schools. As a teacher, I was itching to see what schooling was like half a world away. Nothing could quite prepare me for the heart-warming experience to come.
Stop #1: Education meets Conservation
We first stopped at a local community center, where a group of students collaborated with teachers on various conservation projects. I mistakenly thought they'd be eager to learn about schools in America, but they had much more interesting questions. They asked, “Do you know Michael Jordan?” and, “Are your buildings so tall that they reach the clouds?” Although they were disappointed that we did not know Michael Jordan, they were mesmerized by our description and photos of NYC. Yes, on a foggy day, the (taller) buildings do reach the clouds!
Stop #2: Local Village School
On our way to a local village school, students smiled and waved to our passing car, sweetly welcoming us to their home turf. We entered a 6th grade math classroom, and I couldn’t help but notice that there weren't enough desks. This saddened me, but the kids didn’t seem bothered -- they were ready to learn and show off their decorated notebooks.
My husband jumped at the opportunity to play teacher for a few minutes -- his love for math is akin to my passion for history. So, the instructor handed over the chalk and we all watched Niall write the quadratic formula on the board...for a room full of 6th graders. He turned around to a sea of confused faces (Mine included. Who remembers that after 8th grade?). Blazing ahead, he asked them to solve the problem, and the kids were neither discouraged, nor apprehensive to take a stab at it. Every child had his hand raised, ready to face the funny looking equation.
After each attempt, every student smiled and applauded one another, giving high-fives and cheers. Their courage and excitement was infectious, and it was a beautiful human moment to witness. As a teacher, I have seen students be fearful of incorrectly answering a question. But in that moment, half a world away in a Tanzanian classroom, I was reminded of how we should all act when facing a challenging task. Take a swing. Then smile and cheer for yourself -- no matter what.
Stop #3: Local Family Compound
In the afternoon we headed to one of the local compounds. Upon entering, I felt like turning to my husband and saying, “Honey, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” I’m not going to lie -- visiting a compound is not an everyday experience. Everything was so drastically different from my “normal.” From the homes, to the daily activities, and even to the family structure (polygamous clans), nothing felt relatable. This is why I love travel, folks! Just when you think you've become "well rounded," a new experience pops up to remind us just how much more we have left to learn.
We entered the compound through a simple exterior gate, where thatched roof huts lined the perimeter. When we arrived, the children immediately ran to greet us, asking if we brought soda. Luckily, our lodge anticipated this and we came fully prepared with a cooler of Cokes and Sprites. In retrospect, I wish I had brought a healthier snack, but then again, some things -- like a nice cold soda -- transcend all cultural barriers.
As we walked around, our guide acted as a translator. The villagers were so incredibly proud of their home that it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase: “home is where the heart is.” They showed off the sleeping quarters, kitchen, and explained their daily life.
The villagers then demonstrated a traditional dance, where we watched the males dance for the females -- unexpectedly we were also pulled into the celebration! Somewhere on this Earth there is a video of me participating in this tribal dance, but given I am a terrible dancer with no rhythm, I have forbidden my husband from uploading this footage.
I highly recommend penciling in a visit to a local village during your safari vacation -- even if you similarly struggle with "feeling the music." Touring the schools and compound gave me a deeper understanding of the country that warmly welcomed me.
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