May 9, 2013
Every spring, we are reunited with some of our friends from the Arusha office who get an all-expense paid, two-week visit to the US, courtesy of Rick and Judi. It is such a treat to spend time with our colleagues and to be able to reciprocate the hospitality they so graciously give to us when we visit Tanzania.
This year, we welcomed Hashim, Ally and Albert to Boston:
As Workshop Manager, Hashim manages our fleet of vehicles, which is about 50 strong. Maintaining the fleet is a big job: it includes the Thomson Safaris’ Land Rover Defenders for wildlife viewing, trucks to haul mobile camp supplies and camp resupply vehicles.
Ally began working with Thomson Safaris in 2006 as a Camp Manager and has since been promoted to Manager of Camps. His tasks include overseeing staff and ensuring quality control of our Nyumba camps. During this visit, our past guests graciously invited Ally to California where they hosted his stay in San Francisco for four days.
As Assistant Equipment Manager, Albert ensures our camps’ equipment is in good working order and oversees logistics of camp resupplies for guests and staff. You can’t miss Albert’s bright, friendly smile. He is, however, a force to be reckoned with on the football field, where he has brought Thomson some big sporting victories as the team’s goalkeeper.
Hashim, Ally and Albert’s enthusiasm seemed palpable from the moment their plane touched the tarmac at Logan. From the get-go, our friends were eager to learn and absorb as much as they could about American culture. During their trip, their schedules were packed with activities and sightseeing excursions.
Hashim, especially, seemed to embrace the experience by taking photos every step of the way…we’re talking every step of the way! Rick commented that whenever they were in the car, Hashim had his head out the window, snapping one photo after the next! It is apparent from his final collection of images – which consist of snapshots varying from the Boston skyline to the aisles of Home Depot during an errand – that he was particularly moved by each experience. Michael, in our marketing department, said, “They were so excited about things we may take for granted. It really made me think differently and feel grateful for everything we have!”
View from the observatory
Hashim surprised us all with excellent bowling skills!
Reunion at the office
Boston Duck Tour
Jurassic Park in 3D at the IMAX theater
During one of their first evenings in town, we gathered for a welcome dinner at Rick and Judi’s. The men enjoyed mingling, learning more about our lives and telling us about the sights they had seen thus far. That night, we also learned they had never tried shrimp or wadudu wa bahari (direct Swahili translation: bugs of the sea). Eliza, who recently returned from an extended stay in Tanzania and was eager to introduce them to a new experience, said, “When I was in Tanzania, everyone wanted to take me out to very Tanzanian places, to try new food, and to speak Swahili. It was really fun to be on the other side and to be a host.” Although wadudu wa bahari probably wasn’t at the top of their list of American cuisine to try; they did and they loved it! When asked if they would try lobster in the future, however, they responded with a resounding absolutely not!
The men enjoyed more American experiences during an evening of bowling with the staff. Even though Hashim had never bowled before, he was a natural! We all wondered if there was a bowling alley in Arusha we didn’t know about! We’re not sure how he did it, but he beat all of us!
In addition to exposing our friends to American culture, we also spent time learning more about their specialized day-to-day activities and challenges in the field. Special Interest Safari Consultant, Evan, said, “I loved hearing them speak about the work they do in Tanzania and how our jobs, here in Watertown, relate and coordinate with their jobs; it brought things full circle.” The men agreed with this sentiment and especially appreciated learning about the recent efforts of Focus on Tanzanian Communities.
Megan, in Guest Relations, summed it up by saying, “We learned about their families, education, which cultural tribe they come from and a bit about how they try to balance their work and family life. They experience the same work/family life balance issues that we all do – their jobs include time spent away from home to be in the bush for weeks at a time! It’s evident that despite our cultural and geographical differences, we all tend to face similar challenges.”
April 10, 2013
Volunteering at FAME Health Clinic in Tanzania: Kathy Gaines, RN and Thomson guest, shares her story
Kathy Gaines is a registered nurse with 29 years of experience in pediatrics, maternal child health and medical/surgical nursing. She has visited Tanzania with Thomson Safaris nine times. During her most recent trip to Tanzania, she volunteered at the health clinic, Foundation for African Medicine & Education (FAME) in Karatu.
She shares her experiences with us below.
While on safari three years ago, I delivered a young Maasai woman’s infant in the back of a Land Rover. Obviously, this wasn’t a planned event on my safari itinerary! I just happened to be in the area and was the only medical professional able to handle what had become a complicated delivery. This was my introduction to medicine in Tanzania – it was an eye-opening experience and alerted me to need for better access to quality medical care in Tanzania.
The emergency delivery was the impetus to volunteer my time as an RN at FAME. I spent almost a month at the clinic, which was founded by American physician Dr. Frank and his wife Susan in 2002. In order to maintain a sustainable operation, volunteers are not used to staff the clinic; they are used to educate the staff. My role as an RN at FAME included educating the nurses in both the clinic and inpatient ward and kick-starting their pharmacy program.
One of the issues facing the clinic is maintaining an ample supply of medications. So I took inventory of every pill, vial and ampule in both the clinic and inpatient ward and entered the data into their computer system. I have to admit, it was an overwhelming task but a very important one as the results directly affect patient care. I sat with the staff to make sure that they understood how to use the system.
I also spent time on the inpatient ward, a 12-bed unit that opened approximately four months prior to my arrival. I helped educate the nurses staffing this new facility on basic tasks such as drip rates for IV fluids, correctly taking vital signs, reading MD orders, and sterile techniques for wound care/changing dressings. The nurses had differing degrees of skill; the clinic aims to elevate their skill sets to facilitate future plans of opening an obstetrics unit for delivery and care of mothers and their newborns as well as opening up an emergency room, which I spent some time helping to set up.
Eleven-year old Renata’s first visit to the clinic was in 2008 in congestive heart failure. She was found to have rheumatic heart disease, which was treated with medications until it became progressively worse. In 2010 she was sent to Germany to have an aortic valve replacement. (A physician who spent some time at FAME and met Renata donated the trip and surgery).
When I arrived at FAME, Renata had been in the clinic for a little over a month. She had returned with complaints of nausea, vomiting and weight loss and was diagnosed with an infection of her heart and likely her new valve. She is a wonderful, young girl – along with her caring mom, who remained at her side from the instant she was admitted – she won me over. The FAME staff was won over too!
To treat Renata, I was tasked with developing a drinkable shake to help increase her weight. This is easier said then done; we had to find ingredients available locally as well things she would like – her favorite flavors included Orange Fanta and Pringles! I was able to come up with something she would tolerate and would hopefully help her to put some weight back on. I look forward to hearing updates on her condition from my contacts at the clinic.
Thoughts on Volunteering in Tanzania
The time that I spent at FAME went by very quickly and I wondered if my stay had any impact. In retrospect, I know I left my mark. No matter how small, everyone who volunteers time at FAME makes a lasting impact. Perhaps mine will be made when Dr. Frank says one day, “we haven’t run out of any medication in months since Kathy straightened out the pharmacy program!”
I ended my stay in Tanzania by joining a group at Gibb’s Farm that just climbed Kilimanjaro and was on a 4-day safari with Thomson. How could I go all the way to Tanzania and not go on my 9th safari?! It was a pleasant surprise to meet up with Kileo, a wonderful guide I have met on some of my previous safaris.
I was also very grateful to the Thomson guides who stopped by to say hello while I was at FAME. These included Kaoneka, Kumbi and Leonard. It was nice to see familiar, friendly faces so far from home. They have become friends to me.
My nursing career has been enriched by my time spent at FAME. I feel it was an experience that was meant to be and I feel strongly that I have more to contribute to FAME in the near future. I will return to the clinic again.
March 6, 2013
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, when is the best time to see the Great Migration? Since the giant herds consisting of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle are constantly on the move in a year-round circuit, there really isn’t one definitive answer.
The migration is driven by rainfall patterns and the subsequent grazing potential on the nutrient-rich green grasses it produces. Each month of this circuit offers visitors a look at one of the unique and dynamic facets of the migration, whether it is calving season, the rut, or river crossings – there is always something interesting to see!
Read on as our safari consultants, Bryan, Emily and Andrew reveal their perspectives on the migration and share their experiences, photos and favorite times of the year to witness what has been called Nature’s Greatest Show on Earth.
Although the dry season river crossings have been well documented on many nature films and are touted as being the highlight of the migration, I much prefer seeing the herds together in the largest groups during the calving season from January through March. During this time, the wildebeest are clearly in a “safety in numbers” mode as they birth their babies and graze on the grasses of the southern Serengeti. As they follow the light rains, about 2 million wildebeest move together in herds with almost 200,000 zebras mixed in. The first time I witnessed this, it was like the animals had melted together in a sea of brown – it took a minute for my brain to fully process the amount of animals I was actually looking at! The most amazing part is that they can sense where the rains are falling and seem to move in a hypnotic trance in that direction. This is an ideal time for predators too and the potential for action is high. Spring in the Serengeti was a definite highlight for me and, I think, a great time for safari travelers to visit Tanzania.
Click to enlarge Bryan’s photos
I find it extremely difficult to pick a favorite time of year to see the migration, but I do love visiting the Serengeti in May and June as the migration makes its way to the western corridor through the central Serengeti and collides with the big cat populations that reside in this region year round. The opportunity for a big cat kill is at its peak during this time. The best part is that our central Serengeti camp is right in the heart of this area. During my Signature Safari in May, I had the opportunity to stay in this camp; the proximity to the wildlife and the Great Migration was incredible. We would drive a mere mile away from camp and the wildebeest and zebras were everywhere!
May and June is also a time of year known as the rut when the wildebeest mate. To add to the drama of this period, males try to attract the attention of the females with various displays of aggressive behavior. Guests often capture incredible photos of male wildebeest sparing and fighting to win the affection of the nearby females. Some of my best photos of the migration were a result of the many drawn out fights that took place.
I wouldn’t hesitate to travel back to Tanzania in May again to experience the rut, the mega-herds, and of course, all of the amazing permanent wildlife that resides in the Serengeti year round!
Click to enlarge Emily’s photos
I was on my most recent safari back in November and had an unbelievable time with my guide Casmir. Many folks will read that November is a month when the “short rains” return to Tanzania and so they will opt not to visit at this time. Well, they are missing out! November is an absolutely gorgeous time to be on safari. If anything, the little bit of rain I encountered added to the experience. After all, water is life in the Serengeti!
November is one of the only months on the calendar when travelers can enjoy both dry season and green season wildlife viewing on the same trip. The predators are active, the herds are vast and you (and the wildebeest) will also enjoy the first green grasses and wildflowers of the season. I was lucky to catch the migration in both the northern and central Serengeti at this time of year. So, if you are considering a safari to Tanzania and you are available to make the trip in November, go for it. You’ll enjoy unbelievable scenery and wildlife viewing and you’ll have most of the bush all to yourself. (Flight prices are also at their lowest in November!!)
I always say that anytime is the best time when you travel with a company like Thomson Safaris who makes it a priority to always use seasonal camps. Whether you go in the summer or fall when we bring guests to our camp in the northern Serengeti to catch the migration during the peak of the dry season, or the winter and spring when our guests have the opportunity to see the migration in the Southern plains, our guests will have the opportunity to see all of the great facets of the migration because we make sure they have the best access to it all.
Click to enlarge Andrew’s photos
February 25, 2013
We are excited to share the launch of our new website with you – that’s right, Thomson Safaris has a new look! Visit our site and escape to Tanzania via beautiful photographs and videos from our safari and Kilimanjaro guests. We hope you enjoy the site’s new features including Kilimanjaro trekking maps, a photos & videos section and testimonials from Thomson Safaris’ travelers.
Use our new website to book your next safari or Kilimanjaro trek or request a catalog to start planning your adventure to Tanzania!
February 5, 2013
Nainokanoka Village Celebrates Efforts of Thomson Safaris & FoTZC to Improve Education for Community
Maasai songs reverberated through the hills of Ngorongoro from the village of Nainokanoka during a recent celebration for the completion of teachers’ housing built by Thomson Safaris and Focus on Tanzanian Communities (FoTZC).
Judi Wineland, Director of Thomson Safaris and FoTZC Board Member, attended the celebration at Nainokanoka and said, “The ceremony was magnificent. The teachers’ house, which will house 2-3 teachers, is perched above the Nainokanoka valley, furnished by the village, and with teachers ready to move in. The village hosted an incredible celebration with village elders, the District Commissioner, the District Executive Director, and performances by Maasai students, Maasai warriors, and Maasai mamas. It was an honor to be part of this great day and to be thanked wholeheartedly by the entire village.”
The desire to educate children is strong throughout Tanzania – a country where the government mandates all children attend school – however many challenges still remain. Attracting teachers to remote locations where housing does not exist is the most serious challenge. Teachers’ housing has proven to be an integral component to the sustainability of education in Tanzania; if housing is made available, teachers will come to stay and educate the children.
The efficacy of teachers’ housing can be seen in the successes at the primary school in the remote, Maasai village of Sukenya, where FoTZC built housing for four teachers. In 2010, the school ranked 51 out of 59 schools in the district; following completion of teachers’ housing, and the arrival of a new headmaster and teachers, Sukenya Primary School’s ranking skyrocketed to 9 out of 59 within the year. We are also happy to report that more and more Maasai families in the Sukenya area send their children to school, including Maasai girls.
Students singing a song about how books will bring them out of poverty during the celebration of teachers’ housing at Nainokanoka Primary School. During the ceremony, Judi Wineland told the crowd, “Only education will allow you to make good choices in life, you will be able to bring about changes.”
Learn more about the teachers’ housing and other initiatives throughout northern Tanzania at Focus on Tanzanian Communities.
January 23, 2013
Thomson guest and talented beatboxer, Ben Mirin, shared a special cultural exchange with the Maasai during his safari earlier this month. The Maasai taught him their ceremonial dance and Ben introduced them to the sounds of beatboxing – music they have never heard before. To see how it all unfolded, watch the video below and then read our interview with Ben to learn more about beatboxing and his unique visit.
This musical experiment is impromptu, but it blends basic beatbox techniques with elements of Maasai traditional dance. Creating it with this amazing group of people was a wonderful experience.
How long have you been beatboxing? Do you beatbox professionally?
I’ve been beatboxing my entire life, or at least as long as I’ve been actively listening to music. My earliest memories of it come from watching cartoons around age seven or eight. I would listen to the theme songs of shows on TV, then repeat the drum and melody lines back to myself, often simultaneously. I can only imagine what my parents thought at the time.
I became a professional beatboxer when I returned to the US from Japan in August 2012. I’ve been performing since late high school, but I got my first paying gigs last fall at clubs in my native Boston. I also developed a curriculum reinforced with beatboxing for an education management startup called Degrees2Dreams in Boston, and am still in the process of refining that program.
How would you describe beatboxing to someone who has never heard it before?
Simply put, beatboxing interprets and reinvents traditional musical sounds through the creativity of the human voice. To say it’s “a person imitating drums” or a DJ might make more sense, but I think that’s too simplistic. I’ve heard beatboxers imitate a huge range of instruments—brass, synth, guitar, etc.—very well, as well as produce musical sounds unique to the human voice. It’s music with your mouth, and it’s a growing genre in Hip Hop and international music.
How did you explain beatboxing to the Maasai?
These Maasai had already shown me incredible kindness by giving a riveting dance performance, and subsequently by teaching me how to dance with them. I explained through a translator that I wanted to express my gratitude by sharing an authentically American musical tradition with them. As the video shows, I began with some very basic beatbox sounds (bass drum, high hat, snare) and asked them to mimic them. Mimicry is a touchstone in my own experience becoming a beatboxer, and I think it’s a natural starting point for anyone interested in trying to learn.
How did the Maasai receive beatboxing?
This I think it is clear in the video…the Maasai loved it! Beatboxing has its roots in New York City, but recently it has become a worldwide phenomenon. This was the first time any of these warriors or women, or the Tanzanians nearby, had heard beatboxing, and I hope a few of them might carry the music with them and help it reach new parts of the world.
What were your impressions of Maasai music?
From what I know about Maasai culture (and I hope to expand that knowledge base), it seems natural that their vocal music tradition should be incredibly robust. In the absence of instruments, which may be too expensive or cumbersome to carry around, they sing with a lot of percussive as well as melodic sounds, from rhythmic bass lines to hisses and loud yelps. It’s completely a product of their environment, and that’s what I love most about it.
How did this experience inspire you creatively and do you think it will inspire your music in the future?
The best thing about beatboxing in my opinion is its universality. It draws on the inherent creative potential of an instrument—the voice—that people use to speak thousands of unique languages across the world, let alone make music. This experience in Tanzania has really got me thinking about ways to explore beatboxing’s potential as a cross-cultural force, with applications both within and beyond music.
Do you have any additional thoughts about the experience?
It isn’t the last…
I want to extend a final thank you to Thomson Safaris! It’s fantastic that you are so engaged in helping local communities in Tanzania, and as someone who balks at being a tourist wherever and whenever possible, I am grateful for the chance to have done something similar. This wonderful experience couldn’t have happened without everyone involved in your program.
To learn more about Ben Mirin and his beatboxing, visit his website.