I'm on a plane again, this time on my way back home from a two-week safari adventure in Tanzania.
Why Tanzania? Why a safari? It was a trip planned by a women’s dive and travel club called the OBDC (short for the Old Broads Dive Club). Only women can be members, but many of the old broads bring along their old men, too. While I enjoy independent travel, there’s a special loveliness about traveling with a group of like-minded club members. My first OBDC trip was to Fiji last year, and I loved it. So when the luxury safari trip to see the Great Migration was announced, I answered the call and encouraged my friend Robin to go, too.
What an experience.
If you’re unfamiliar with Tanzania, here are some of the facts about this distant part of the world. It is in East Africa and is the location of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, and the Serengeti region. With a population of 55 million, per capita GDP is about $1,100 per year, and the workforce participation rate is low. (What a contrast to our dollar-driven society!) Unofficially, about 15% of the population does not have enough to eat. Yet, there are so many wonderful things about their society. The population consists of five major tribes, and about 120 tribes in total. People speak their tribal language, the national language of Swahili, and most learn English. There is compulsory education until age 15, and the people take great in pride in their natural environment and their efforts to protect it.
Despite the obvious hardships, the people I met did not seem to be suffering. They are a proud, strong, loving community. They told us stories about when they gained their independence, and although the economy regressed after that, they are hopeful and dedicated to a better future. At a village school we visited (where the children treated us like bona fide VIPs), one little girl told me she wants to be a pilot. Another wants to be a writer. These are people who work hard, cherish family, sing with joy, and are welcoming to strangers—even to 21 Old Broads whose lives and perspectives are worlds apart from their own.
When we were on safari, we were blessed with marvelous, English-speaking guides who seemed to know every fact there is to know about the incredibly beautiful Serengeti, the national park where we traveled. As our guide drove us through the bush, he seemed to know all the other driver guides. For the people we had the good fortune of meeting, there was an easy joy that seemed to come from life itself and their relationships with each other.
Henry Miller once wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.” In Tanzania, the people we saw on the streets, met working at our resort, and served as our guides were all living examples of the importance of community in a world that, in my experience, seems to reward independence and the strength to go it alone. In villages that some might see as disadvantaged, I saw joy, hope, and love. Among a people who lacked money for what we Westerners might consider their most basic needs, they seemed to want little. By focusing on community and honoring nature, everyone around me seemed to be living fully—together. This overwhelming sense of community was infectious.
Observing the behaviors of wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, elephants, baboon, birds, hippos, leopards (yes, we saw the big five) was the most amazing part of the journey. Elephants in matriarchal families took care of each other with soft, deliberate gentleness. Millions of wildebeest carefully herded their babies across the Mara river. As we watched, our group connected at deeper levels and, much like the animals around us, we took gentle care of each other. Perhaps the lesson from the Tanzania trip was how the ability to live an ideal life is defined not by riches or belongings, but from the inside out, and by the community that holds us close.
The trip to Tanzania gave me the opportunity to see life stripped down to the basics—for the people around me and for all other species. What are the basics? They are more simple than you might think. What I saw was that all we really need are the natural resources to sustain us, and our interdependence and community. For better or worse, in our developed society, our primary resource is money. We need money to obtain food, shelter, and clean water. We need money to care for our families and give them safe, healthy, and happy lives. Without money, I could never have traveled to Tanzania to share another experience with my friends in the OBDC. However, money will never—and can never—give us everything we need.
As I head home to Southern California and back to life and business, the importance of community and its role in making it possible to live an ideal life—however you define it—is the lesson I am bringing back home. Perhaps that is the gift the Old Broads and Tanzania itself had in store for me all along.